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  • Writer's pictureJarmo Honkala

Samurai and the Art of the Idiom

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Do you know the feeling when you try to explain a well-known concept in your native language to a foreign friend, and it seems impossible to find the right word or phrase to describe it? Or if you have tried to understand a new word in foreign language, but you just can’t get a grip of the whole meaning? I’ve been there many times.

A Japanese friend of mine once tried to explain his life philosophy to me by describing it in Japanese as “yamato-damashii 大和魂” which could be translated to Japanese spirit or samurai spirit. With this single word he was trying to convey many things at once, and most likely trying to make a good impression. He wanted me to know that he is a person to be trusted and that he would never commit what are (in his culture) shameful acts. I thought it was cool to learn a new concept in Japanese, but I also noticed that he seemed to feel sorry for me for not being able to understand the complete meaning.

The greater the cultural distance, the more challenging it is to translate word concepts and idioms. When you learn a new language it opens up your eyes to a new world. Professional translators hold the keys to at least two, if not even more worlds. They are the experts in interpreting meaning and nuance. They work hard to find a balance between the literal source text and a translation that sounds natural in the target language. One doesn’t need to be a translator to understand how challenging this can be at times. The translation of a masterpiece novel can take years!

How do our translators know how to choose when there are dozens of ways to convey the same message? At Transfluent, our translators are professionals with their own specific areas of expertise. Despite the several years spent studying and training, translators often ask questions regarding a meaning in the source text with new assignments. They are extremely detail oriented and the amount of research they may conduct before even starting a job may be surprising.

How can you help our translators do a better job for you? It’s very easy. Even a few guidelines (e.g. who is your audience for a particular document?) about the text can be extremely helpful. If possible, also give specific instructions on what you wish the style to be. Do you want a straightforward and easy-to-read text that is loyal to the original version, or maybe something with a compelling touch to attract a certain audience? All instructions are welcome and helpful.

For my Japanese friend another crucial term he used to describe what is important in life was “ronritekina ikkansei 論理的な一貫性” which translates into logical consistency. If the idea of “samurai spirit” didn’t quite fit with my life philosophy, but logical consistency is something I really like! At Transfluent we want to provide high-quality translations within a time margin that suits you, and we are always (logically) consistent with our promise to you.

Text originally written by our Quality Lead Minna Taavitsainen, who was also our Japanese culture specialist here at Transfluent a couple of years back.


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