Translation often requires the ability to handle words and phrases that are impossible to “convert” directly into another language. In general, it would be safe to say that translation mediates between cultures, since each language reflects the culture of society that uses it. Therefore, translation requires creative approach and imagination, along with the ability to understand the text in-detail, as well as the spirit in which it is written. Translator’s job is to adapt the text to the target language, make it accessible and easy to understand and, at the same time, to avoid making it too literal, while maintaining the unique meaning that the author intended to convey.
If you speak at least two languages, you might have noticed that in your native language, you are able to express your thoughts in a much more laconic and concise manner compared to your second language. The reason for this phenomenon is that frequently used concepts and analogies are often being “squeezed” into a short phrase or even a single word, which in many cases are quite hard to translate. For example, German word “Waldeinsamkeit”, which expresses the feeling of being alone in the forest. In this case, translation would greatly depend on the context, which should dictate whether the feeling described is loneliness (which often conveys a negative meaning) or solitude (which refers to “voluntary seclusion”). However, an erroneous interpretation of the original text may lead to a completely opposite meaning – a divine experience can be “accidentally” turned into a feeling of horror associated with loneliness. Some words and phrases take it to the extreme, like the Serbian word “merak”, which means… “the feeling of being one with the universe, while enjoying the simplest things in life”.
Let’s take the word “kilig”, which in Tagalog means “the excitement of meeting someone you’re in love with”. One way to translate is to find a word or phrase that simply works in a sentence, like “excitement” or “feeling of love”, while another option would be to maintain the exact meaning of the word and translate it literally. In some cases, it might be wise to actually use the original word and add a footnote, which often proves to be a much better solution than writing a goofy sentence in an attempt to maintain the original meaning.
Upon encountering such words, translators face a serious challenge. The question is: how precise do you really have to be? Is it really important to integrate the full meaning of the word into the sentence, or the overall meaning of the sentence is more significant? In most cases, the latter applies. While translating close to the original might be sufficient to make the text understandable, a culturally and linguistically localized translation takes it to a completely different level.