The process of translating

People in general think that translating is finding the equivalent words in a different language with the help of a dictionary. They also think that it is enough to know both languages. Well, if that was truth, why would there be bachelor degrees and master’s degrees and all kinds of translation studies 45762-200 and training?

Yes, translators use dictionaries frequently to know the meaning of words. However, translation is not just about the meaning of words, but the meaning of the text. The translator’s job is to convey, as closer as possible, the same message as the person who wrote the text in question, in another language. That does not necessary mean using the equivalent words that are in the dictionary. Sometimes, translators use equivalent expressions. For example, one possible translation into Portuguese for “the grass is always greener on the other side” is “the neighbour’s chicken is fatter than mine” (“a galinha do vizinho é mais gorda que a minha”).

There are other correct ways to translate it, for example “the perception is that there are better things beyond those around him”. In truth, translation is about options. The only way that a translation is wrong is if it has grammar mistakes or if the meaning is opposite to that the author intended. In the example above, a wrong translation would be if the translator wrote something like “the perception is that the best things are the ones one already has”.

Many times people think a translation is wrong because the translator did not use the terms they think would be the correct ones. Well, like previous said, translation is about options and just because a translator chose a different term does not mean is it wrong.


There are several techniques translators can use. One of them is to explain the meaning instead of finding an equivalent expression, like the example above. Sometimes translators can add pieces of information for the readers of the second language understand something that is obvious for the readers of the first language. Hence, footnotes, for example. This happens because cultures are different, which is something that has to be taken into consideration too.

As grammar rules are different, there are some adjustments translators have to do. For example: change the order of the words in the sentence, change verbs to nouns or vice-versa, find expressions or words that, although they are not exactly the equivalent according to the dictionary, are the best match according to the text (like the example above). Sometimes translators have also to change paragraphs. For example, the rules on dialogues are different, therefore, the “look” of the text will be different.

The process of translating a text

Translators have their own process, which is perfected throughout the time. However, the process follows more or less the same steps:

  1. Translation proper, when the translator writes the first version, transforming the original text into a text in another language;
  2. Revisions, when the translator improves the translation and makes sure that the meaning conveyed is the same.

Translators do as much revisions as they think they need to consider the translation complete. It can depend on the difficulty of the topic, on the number of words, or on the purpose of the translation… or even on deadlines. Some revisions involve comparing the translation with the original, to make sure the meanings are correct, others are only focused on the translation itself, to make sure the reading is good (it should not sound like the original language).

It is advisable to ask someone else to read the final version. At some point, translators are no longer able to detach themselves from the original text and fail to see eventual faults. Furthermore, they can also leave the translation aside for a period of time (a week, a month) to look at it differently, with fresher eyes.


Check other articles related to translation and languages.


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