Interpreting idioms and sayings is a challenge for any professional linguist, and must be handled appropriately to convey the message correctly. First, what is an idiom and who uses them?
- Idiom: An idiom is a phrase or an expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. Categorized as formulaic language, an idiom's figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning. There are thousands of idioms, occurring frequently in all languages.
Every language has its own collection of sayings. They can offer advice, transfer some underlying ideas, principles and values of a given culture / society, or be pop-culture driven. Interpreting idioms can present some of the more challenging (and sometimes awkward) situations when communicating through a professional interpreter. Idioms will make no sense directly interpreted into a second (target) language. Or, worse, they will "make sense" but not in the way intended when they were uttered in the original (source) language. Idioms are woven in language and culture, their meaning and usefulness typically starts and ends with people who share the same language and cultural background.
The dangers of such misunderstandings, place a big responsibility on the interpreters’ part to convey the intended meaning. Imagine traveling to Sweden and you hear “Att glida in på en räkmacka” which literally means “to slide in on a shrimp sandwich” but the intended meaning is “somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.” An interpreter needs to interpret idioms “on the fly” - it’s not a word for word interpretation - they need to convey the meaning. The interpreter first must understand what the idiom means in the source language, and culture, in order to interpret it accurately into the target language.
It is estimated that the English language has over 25,000 idioms. Native speakers of English use idioms all the time, often without realizing that they are doing so. Just like whey you are creating materials for translation to be used in other markets, when working with interpreters its best to refrain from using idioms, which can sometimes prove difficult. If you find yourself using one of the 25,000 English-language idioms just remember that it’s not “a piece of cake” to interpret idiomatic expressions.
Rapport International, a full-service interpreting and translation company, provides highly experienced and trained linguists who are familiar with idioms and sayings in their native languages, and who will “hit the nail on the head” for all your translation and interpreting needs. We provide high-quality, professional in-person interpreting in Lincoln and Omaha Nebraska and surrounding areas, as well as in Massachusetts. Translation services are available worldwide. Please contact us for assistance and guidance with your interpreting and translation needs.