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Why These Are The Top 5 Most Difficult Languages to Translate

Translation Around the World - Translation - The more you know - Food for thought

In this day and age, we connect and work with people from all around the world. Most of us will agree that the world has gotten smaller with the new technology and travel possibilities. With this change, we are also more connected to different cultures, languages, and dialects. To understand what is going on in the world, think about the news, art, media, and other critical resources. How do we access this content? Through translation of course! Without translation, we wouldn’t be able to understand each other.

That being said, translation can be quite difficult. It’s not just a point-and-click conversion of languages. It is an art form. You have to find meaning for meaning – essentially converting a thought in a way that ensures it means the same thing in a new language. Unfortunately, technology aiding translators often does not translate the exact meaning.

Some languages are more complicated to translate than others. Many factors can cause this. For example, in some languages, the pronunciation of a word can change its meaning. When you don’t understand the context, translating can be challenging. Also, grammar can be totally different compared to the native language a translator is accustomed to.

The Top 5 most difficult languages to translate and why

Below we will break down the top 5 most difficult languages to translate and why. We’ll also give a brief history of the different languages and where they originate to help give context. Interested? Then keep reading!

1. Mandarin Chinese

Ad Astra Mandarin Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to translate

Mandarin is the primary language spoken in China. China has a lot of different dialects. For various parts of China to communicate with each other, Mandarin became the official language. The capital of China is Beijing, where Mandarin originates from. 

What makes it so tough to translate?

Mandarin exists of 80,000 characters. That is a lot if you compare it to most languages that only have a 26 letter alphabet. Most characters in Mandarin mean something else when pronounced differently. That is why when translating this language, your skills need to be phenomenal. 

How translators tackle Mandarin

To effectively translate Mandarin, translators need to understand Chinese culture and its history. Splitting sentences and knowing the context of a phrase or witticism will make the job a bit easier. 

2. Arabic

Ad Astra Arabic is one of the most difficult languages to translate

Arabic is spoken in 28 countries! In literature, the Arabic language is also known as a Proto-Semitic language. This makes Arabic part of the Afro-Asiatic group.

What makes it so tough to translate?

When reading or writing in Arabic, you will have to do it from right to left. Unlike most languages that get written left to right. This language also has many different dialects that can make it harder to understand and translate. Words can have different meanings in other parts of the world where a different dialect is spoken. 

How translators tackle Arabic 

Because Arabic has many different dialects, most translators translate back to the original Arabic dialect before translating to the other language. 

3. Korean

Ad Astra Korean is one of the most difficult languages to translate

Korean is a language that is believed to not descend from any other language. This is very uncommon. Most languages have their roots in another language in some form. Korean is only spoken in Korea and nowhere else. That being said, the modern Korean language does have words that are derived from neighbors Japan or China.

What makes it so tough to translate

Culture affects a language and how it is spoken. Sentences are built up in a whole different way than most languages. Another reason why Korean is hard to translate is because this particular language is made up of over a million words. Trying to translate that many words in to a language that has a lot fewer words can become tricky. 

How translators tackle Korean

When translating words from Korean into a different language, most translators pull words apart. This is because many words are made up of smaller, single- syllables words. The more syllables you know, the easier it is to translate. 

4. Thai

Ad Astra Thai is one of the most difficult languages to translate

Thai is the official language in Thailand. Thai is related to languages that are spoken in Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Yunnan. The written language was introduced in 1283. This language is known as a monosyllabic language.  

What makes it so tough to translate? 

When Thai gets written down, there are no spaces between words. Spaces only get used to finish a sentence. When speaking in Thai, the way a word is pronounced can change the meaning of a word, just like in Mandarin

How translators tackle Thai

To translate Thai correctly, it is essential to understand what the context is when it gets spoken. Also knowing many separate words is helpful when trying to pull longer sentences apart. 

5. Hungarian

Ad Astra Hungarian is one of the most difficult languages to translate

Hungarian is a language that has been spoken in Hungary since the 9th century. This language can be traced back to over 3000 years. It was a language spoken by some nomadic tribes known as the Onogouroi. This is where the name ‘Hungarian’ came from. Hungarian is influenced by the Turkish community and its language. You will see Turkish influence in the Hungarian language because both languages share similar words and meanings.

What makes it so tough to translate?

Hungarian is especially hard to translate because of its grammatical rules. It is loaded with rules that are totally different from the English language. Apart from that, the Hungarian language relies on idioms that are hard to understand when you are not a native speaker.

How translators tackle Hungarian

As mentioned before, with other languages like Hungarian, translators need to understand the culture and the context in which a sentence is spoken. Getting used to the culture will help translators puzzle the different idioms into the correct meaning. Knowing a bit of Turkish will also help a translator effectively translate this difficult language as well.

Last thoughts on translating the top 5 difficult languages

So you can tell just how complicated some languages are to translate than others. Many different factors play a role in this. When an unfamiliar language has different grammar rules or is constructed differently, translating can get very confusing.

Our translators work incredibly hard to translate the message that the messenger wants to say. We hope you learned something cool and that you now have an idea of which languages are hard to translate and why!