Bad or Good Translation: How to make the difference?

Bad or Good Translation: How to make the difference?


Translation is the transportation of a written text from one language (Source language) into another language (target language); it must take into account constraints that include context, the rules of grammar of the two languages, their writing conventions, and their idioms, which can sometimes lead translators to produce bad or inadequate translations, 

hence, what makes a “good” or “bad” translation?


A good translation


  • Sounds like it was written initially in the target language: a high-quality translation should sound, when read, as if it were written in the language that the text is being translated into.
  • Takes context into consideration: context is the surroundings, circumstances, environment, background or settings that determine, specify, or clarify the meaning of a word, sentence, or paragraph. Communicative Translation is a good example for that; as it attempts to render the exact contextual meaning of the original in such a way that both language and content are readily acceptable and comprehensible to the readership, therefore; it is essential for the translator to get familiar with the context of the text before starting the translation process.
  • Takes grammatical differences between languages into account: The English language has the largest vocabulary of any language, it shares cognates with most other languages, such as French, but a significant number of these are “false friends”. For example, the word “actually” means really in English. In French “actuellement” has a different meaning; which is “at present”. Another example of false friends would be “notice” in French, which means “ note or instruction”, and “notice” in English, which means “the period of time that you must work after you have said that you are leaving your job, or after you have been asked to leave.”


A bad translation


  • Fails to convey the full meaning: A common misconception is that there exists a simple word-for-word correspondence between any two languages, and that translation is a straightforward mechanical process, however, the order of words varies from one language to another. For example; sentence structure in English is (Subject + Verb +Object), whereas, in Arabic it is (Verb + Subject + Object).

If we take the sentence, “The student studies law

  • Word-for-word-translation "الطالب يدرس القانون" (Subject + Verb + Object)
  • Correct translation : "يدرس الطالب القانون" (Verb + Subject + Object)

Therefore, word-for-word translation does not take into account context, grammar, idioms, and conventions of the target language.

  • Does not take the purpose into account: if we take a website translation for example, the original “French version” says “ Rendez-vous sur: ” a simple translation might be “ Go to: ”, but thinking of the business and marketing context, a good translation would be more like “ Learn more at: ”.

In a nutshell, one must always take context, conventions, and the difference of sentence structures between languages in order to achieve a flawless translation.

Share the article

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Français العربية English
Open chat
Good Morning,

Can I help you?
Powered by