Five Things to Know About Translation

  1. Translators work with written documents, while interpreters work with spoken language.
  2. Most translators can translate around 200-250 words per hour, depending on the text.
  3. The original document is called the source, while the new translated document is called the target.
  4. The word “translate” comes from the past participle form of the Latin word “transferre,” which means “to bring over, to carry over.”
  5. Translating is not merely about knowing the definitions of words in a different language. Translators need to take into account the various shades of meaning of a word (for example, does the author simply mean “happy” or does he mean content, cheerful, delighted, pleased, etc.?), grammar differences, idiomatic expressions, intended audience and style of the text (is this a casual letter written to a friend or is this a formal business document?). On top of all that, they need to make sure the text reads well in the target language. Staying true to the original while making the text flow in a different language can be a challenge in the translation field, although it is a challenge most translators enjoy!


English is Handy

While many German people are excellent speakers of English, there seem to be some words that have gotten a little confused on their journey across the ocean/channel. These words, while English in origin, are used in entirely different ways in Germany, Austria, etc. than they are by native English speakers, which can make for interesting English conversations in German-speaking countries.

One such word is beamer. What could a beamer be, you ask? Well, it’s not a spaceship beaming you up to space, nor is it a classy BMW. A beamer, in the German-speaking world, is the “English” word for “projector.” It took a lot of convincing to get German-speaking friends to believe that beamer is not, in this sense, an actual English word.


Another example is mobbing, which somehow became the word that Germans think means “bullying.” Answering questions about the frequency of mobbing in American elementary schools was a little confusing for me the first few times.

Handy is the German “English” word for cell phone, although not for something being actually handy in the sense that English speakers would use it (that German word is praktisch). Perhaps the worst English misborrowing, however, is the use of the word body bag. German speakers may casually slip this phrase into conversation, stating, for example, that they bought a body bag yesterday. While this may leave English speakers staring open-mouthed at their German friend, in the German-speaking world, body bag simply means a type of purse.

Image Credit:

Contributing Your Mustard

Idioms, or expressions whose meanings don’t relate to the actual words in the phrase, can be quite tricky for translators. Translating “it’s raining cats and dogs” literally into German, for example, could leave many German speakers staring perplexedly at the sky. To prevent such utter confusion, translators must have a thorough understanding of the target language’s common expressions and their meanings.

These expressions, however, can sound rather funny when translated word for word into English. Take a look at these German idioms below:

  1. Es ist nicht “das gelbe vom Ei.”
    Literal: It is not “the yolk of the egg.”
    Meaning: It is not the best.


So, next time someone asks if you like a new restaurant, feel free to say that while you think it’s an overall okay place, it is clearly not the yolk of the egg.

  1. Ich musste “ihm alles aus der Nase ziehen.”
    Literal: I had to pull everything out of his nose.
    Meaning: With him, it was like pulling teeth (an English idiom equivalent!).

When discussing distressingly quiet people, we pull teeth, Germans pull things out of their nose. To each his own.

  1. Ich “gebe meinen Senf dazu.”
    Literal: I contribute my mustard.
    Meaning: I add my two-cents.

If you like mustard more than pennies, make sure to take part in German conversations.

  1. Er “hat einen Vogel.”
    Literal: He has a bird.
    Meaning: He’s crazy.

In conclusion, in order to avoid sounding like “you have a bird” when conversing in another language, make sure to learn their idioms. Unless you really like birds.