All languages don’t follow the same rules for the translation process. Not all language pairs have the same complexity and price for translation services.
For example, widely used language pairs like English into Spanish are considered “simple” to translate because of their popularity and rate of use. More linguists can translate from English into Spanish than English into Hebrew. On the other hand, English and Spanish are closer languages than English and Hebrew. While translating content from one language to another, several elements like syntaxis, the alphabet, if the language writing scripts are left-to-right or right-to-left, the language’s grammatical gender, etc., determine the complexity of the process.
Less common languages have a smaller population of speakers, which brings fewer linguists and translators, while prevalent languages, like Chinese, have linguistic complications like tonality that need attention during the translation work.
It’s important to understand that if you’re starting the translation process with a complex language because it can affect the number of qualified professional translators available, which may affect the price and if you can have a fast turnaround.
Factors That Make Language Translation Services Complex
A language isn’t considered complex or simple based on one factor. A combination of factors affects translation services in every language pair. These include:
The population of language speakers
The more people who speak a language, the more common it is. Less common languages can be more challenging to translate because of the lack of translation experts and reference material. The more common a language is, the more professional translators it usually has. However, a common or widely spoken language doesn’t always mean it’s simple to translate.
Languages are grouped into linguistic families based on shared roots. Languages that share a family tree may have an overlap of words, similar grammatical rules, and sentence structure. Some language family trees are large, like the Romance languages, while others contain only a single surviving branch. This affects translation services because isolated languages can be more complicated than those in a large family tree. Frequently, when you are translating from one language to another, there isn’t an equivalent word, so the translation is done using a description.
Example Gattara (Italian):
A woman with several cats would likely rather spend time with them than with another human. This word refers to someone who might be called in the English language a “crazy cat lady.”
Languages in the same family tree, like the Romance or Germanic languages, overlap linguistically. Spanish and French developed out of the same base Latin and have many overlaps in individual words and conjugations, making the role of the translation company straightforward. But other languages are isolated, meaning they don’t share roots with other modern languages. Korean is an example of a language that doesn’t share a genealogical relationship with any other language. A translation company may have fewer professional translators for an isolated language.
Some languages, like Arabic or Chinese, have words that contain multiple meanings, and the word’s definition depends on the speaker’s tone. Tonality complicates both interpretation and translation services but is incredibly challenging for translation services. It complicates the comprehension of translated documents since written language doesn’t have tonality like spoken language, and understanding context clues is paramount if you’re working with a tonal language.
English has one writing system, but some languages, like Japanese, have more than one writing system. Japanese has 3. These systems may share the same alphabetic base, but each works differently. These different systems bring challenges to professional translators, delaying the language services.
The English language has 26 letters. These letters work together to create every English word you know (or don’t know.) But other languages have significantly more characters or letters in their alphabet. For instance, Mandarin Chinese has 80,000 characters. Professional translators have a more profound working knowledge of these characters beyond conversational ability. This knowledge is beneficial in producing high-quality translations.
Widely spoken languages have regional dialects. Consider the difference between British and American English or Mexican and Chilean Spanish. This is where localization plays a crucial part in managing multilingual content and overcoming cultural barriers. While the language is “the same,” failing to localize your Spanish translation will make it feel too formal or not resonate with your target audience. Localization is a vital part of the language services process.
7 Complex Languages to Translate
1. Arabic Language
Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and is used as the official language of many countries. Arabic is a tonal language that changes word meanings based on pronunciation. In written form, Arabic letters can be written four different ways, depending on their placement. Additionally, vowels are only spoken, not written!
Since Arabic is so widely spread, there are also many dialects and localization of your Arabic translation is essential. Written Arabic also has several intricacies of the letters and vowels, making the translation process tricky. Another element of this language is that it is written from RTL in a cursive style and has an alphabet of 28 letters, impacting the final design when you get your documents translated. For Arabic translations of websites, it is vital to work with a font type that will display Arabic well.
Learn more about Arabic translation services.
2. Chinese Language
Despite being the most used spoken language in the world, Chinese can be complex to translate. First, you need to know your target audience to decide which type of written form you will use, simplified or Traditional Chinese. In Chinese, thousands of characters (or logograms) are used to write single- and multiple-character words. Simplified Chinese characters have fewer strokes than traditional characters and have less elaborated structures. Simplified and Traditional also have some punctuation rule differences.
Chinese is also a tonal language, meaning what a word means changes based on your pronunciation. This can make translation challenging, as context clues are significant for an accurate translation. Chinese is s pictographic language, and there are eight-stroke order rules in writing a Chinese character.
Additionally, writing characters can become complex since individual units build concepts when combined.
Chinese spoken form also varies according to your audience, so knowing if you need Mandarin, Min, Wu, or Cantonese to indicate the necessary Chinese dialect for your interpretation services is essential.
Chinese language services require working with a translation company with the knowledge, project managers, and resources to produce flawless professional translation services and appropriate interpretation services.
Learn more about Chinese translation services.
3. Korean Language
Korean is a language that is not used much outside of Korea, limiting the number of fluent Korean speakers and professional translators. Additionally, Korean is a linguistically isolated language that does not share roots with any languages currently spoken. The intricacies of pronunciation and grammar are unique to this language, which makes it complex to translate.
Modern Korean is usually written left-to-right horizontally. Using the appropriate font for your desktop publishing and website is fundamental for Korean content.
Learn more about Korean translation services.
4. Japanese Language
The Japanese language has many intricacies to master for translation. There are many complexities in the spoken language, and ideograms are commonly used. Japanese does not differentiate between genders or singular and plural, and multiple writing systems are used. These writing systems contain numerous pronunciations of the same word and varying levels of formality. Which writing system you need is just one piece of the complexities of Japanese translations.
In the localization industry, the language pair English Japanese is expensive due to the limited number of professional translators and the complexity of the mental process for human translation.
Learn more about Japanese translation services.
5. Hungarian Language
Hungarian is a Uralic language, it has an alphabet with 26 characters like the English alphabet, but the similarities end there. Hungarian has many grammatical rules not found in other languages, and there are complications in translation, like the fact that Hungarian is a language with many idioms. There are five vowels but nine variations of them. Certain suffixes are used for time indication or possession. This complex but beautiful language is also gender neutral.
Additionally, Hungarian is not a widespread language, limiting the number of professional translation services available.
Learn more about Hungarian translation services.
6. Thai Language
The Thai language has been spoken for thousands of years and is monosyllabic. The language uses the Thai script or Thai alphabet, with 44 consonant symbols and 16 vocal symbols that can produce around 32 vowel forms and four tones. Thai is a tonal language.
Thai translation services quickly become a challenge because, in written form, there are no capitalizations or spaces between the words; a space indicates a sentence break. The writing system is complex and adds to the display of documents and electronic content.
Learn more about Thai translation services.
7. Finnish Language
The Finnish language is the only remaining language in modern times from the Finno-Ugric language tree, making it another language isolate. Although it may sound similar to Icelandic or Danish, it’s completely different and has complex grammatical rules. There are also two versions of the language: standard Finnish, a formal version of the language often used in writing or politics, and spoken Finnish, a colloquial version used by most of the Finnish-speaking population today.
Finnish is written with the Latin alphabet, also including the characters ä and ö, and other characters (b, c, f, q, w, x, z, å, š, and ž) dedicated to words of non-Finnish origins.
Learn more about Finnish translation services.
Professional Translation Services Make Complex Languages Simple
Translating language pairs with complex languages is not impossible; it simply takes the right team, knowledge, and resources to accomplish the project. You need a professional translation company that employs fluent and experienced professional translators with subject matter expertise to ensure your translated content is grammatically and linguistically accurate and uses the proper context, tone, and slang when needed. Don’t trust the translation of complex languages to just anyone.
Working with a professional translation company gives you options in your translation services, whether you have a complex project that needs human translation or a small project that can use neural machine translation services. Language translation companies simplify a complicated process with a project manager, quality checks, translation memory, and even special pricing for a large project.
Need a one-time or ongoing translation service for one of the complex languages above? Working with a professional translation service provider makes it simple. JR Language is a translation company with years of experience helping businesses of all sizes with language translation. Contact us for a quote today— we’d love to learn about your needs and help your business grow through translation and interpretation services.