Is Untranslatability A Major Challenge For A Translator?

Translation doesn’t mean an art in which you have to give your perfection. It also not stands for copying.

Translation is just a way to interpret the meaning or sense in another language to make it easily understandable. But sooner or later in translator career, you would have felt that while translating some words though you have transformed, you are in a confusing state.

There are several untranslatable words which can make you feel helpless while translating into another language.

Dealing with the hardest words

There are over 400 words which are considered hard words to translate. It is quite strange but honestly speaking it is tough to find the exact meaning of certain words for good language translator while translating in any language, for example, Desengaño is a Spanish word that means disillusioned and for people speaking English disillusioned largely means deprived of your illusions.

In French, you can see a term ‘illusion’ but it has a deeper meaning.

These untranslatable words create difficulties as choosing a right word is always a difficult task, for example, an English word ‘fair’ or ‘fairness’ is difficult to translate in German, French or any other foreign language. Though European languages have made their unique space still certain words come under the untranslatability section.

This increases the threat of stereotyped culture as every native speaker at some point looks for uniqueness. Here, necessary qualities of translator can help you massively.

Illustrate to express a sense

Untranslatable shows the extremity in terms of translations as there are no direct substitute words or phrase in a target language. Generally, related counterparts are considered to make a meaningful translation. German term schadenfreude literally means “harm or joy” in English. This word would not make sense at all so while translating for native English speaker; it would be elaborated as “enjoying the agony of others”.

There are other tools that can be used to handle the situation while dealing with untranslatable terms. When there is no appropriate word in a target language then you can explain the word as per the situation, by using equivalent or circumlocution. Adaptation can be the other best option to handle these kinds of challenges and adapt cultural meaning if the phrase in Japanese “tamago gata no kao” is translated into English it will mean “sweetheart” whereas original translation done by reliable translator for business would be meaningless as it literally means “egg with eyes”.

If you are not getting any equivalents to use in translation then you can try calque to maintain the uniformity of the original text. In this method, words are broken into elements to make it easier to get the actual meaning of the source text.

Translating it into context

If you are not left with an option the last thing is keeping the source word in italics and mentioning its actual meaning at the end as a footnote. Bilinguals understand it well that each language is peculiar in terms of grammar and vocabulary.

For Instance, in Spanish you can across gender differences like the Moon is treated as female. Native speakers of Aboriginal languages instead of using ‘left’ and ‘right’ use ‘east’ and ‘west’ as per their perception. Similarly, there are words in other languages too which are considered untranslatable. There are many habits of translators that help them to maintain accuracy.


The word signifies deep love for nature or solitude in German;


Spanish word Sobremesa is used to define the whole conversation between people while having a meal.


Komorebi is to describe the scenic beauty of sunshine in the Japanese language.


Iktsuarpok is to show the feeling of eagerness and waiting impatiently for someone.


Hygge, a Danish term reminds of coziness, especially in winters or togetherness.


In Indonesia, Jayus is used to describe a sarcastic situation depicting awkward joke where you are left with the only option of laughing on the humor.


Tartle is derived from Scottish term and used to depict hesitation while introducing someone whose name might not be coming in your mind at that moment.


Chouette literally means owl but in French it means nice or cute.

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