What It’s Like to Translate from Vietnamese to Norwegian

Vietnamese has it origins from the Red River Delta region and is spoken by about 85 million people worldwide, both in Vietnam and among migrant communities in Australia, North America, and Scandinavia, including Norway, where I live. Due to these migrant communities throughout the world, the need for translation between diverse language pairs such as Vietnamese-Norwegian, Vietnamese-Spanish, and Vietnamese-English is steadily increasing.

However, translation into these languages come with certain challenges. Vietnamese differs radically from Norwegian. In fact, many specific grammatical terms used to describe Norwegian have zero or little relevance to Vietnamese. For example:

  • Vietnamese has no definite and indefinite articles (“a,” “the”), but makes use of classifiers instead, which are used as articles, but which also have different functions.
  • Vietnamese has no exact equivalents for “yes” and “no.”
  • Vietnamese words do not change to show numbers. Whereas in Norwegian, people use suffixes or irregular plural forms to indicate plurality, Vietnamese use numerals and quantifiers.
  • In Vietnamese, the adjectives always follow the nouns for modification. In Norwegian and English, it’s the opposite. For example, “white laptop” would be flipped in Vietnamese to “laptop white.”
  • In contrast to Norwegian, Vietnamese nouns have no masculine or feminine form.

The Translation Process Is Highly Complex

Since Vietnamese and Norwegian differ so radically, the translator cannot simply do a semantic analysis of the source sentence and a syntactic transformation to create a translation, which would be the case if you were to translate from a more similar language such as English. In fact, you have to make use of a different set of strategies when translating from Vietnamese to Norwegian, which is more complex:

  • Semantic analysis
  • Reconstructing the sentence into Norwegian units of meaning
  • Rearranging individual translated units into a Norwegian sequence
  • Recreating the translated units to produce natural-sounding Norwegian

This complex process makes translating from Vietnamese to Norwegian cumbersome and slow, unless the translator can swiftly make the necessary adjustments so that the Norwegian translation sounds idiomatic and natural. Fast and high-quality translations are the trademarks of today’s translation business, whether you are trying to localize an app, website, creating meta titles and descriptions, or translating a novel.

However, these translation tasks offer a great deal of linguistic challenges:

  • Structural invariance: maintaining as far as possible the syntactic structure of the source text
  • Semantic invariance: maintaining the source text’s meaning
  • Lexical invariance: maintaining one-to-one mapping of words and phrases from source to target text (e.g. translating text for search engines)
  • Spatial invariance: maintaining the external attributes of the source text, e.g. length, location. (especially relevant for localization of websites, apps, meta titles, etc.)

When you are dealing with two languages that are so different from each other in terms of vocabulary, sound, idiom and grammar, you need to do a lot of precise and well-thought-out translating in order to relay and retain the meaning in the source text. This can only be achieved if you have a good grasp of both Vietnamese and Norwegian. And of course, you need to have as much context as possible.

Use Expert, Professional Translators for the Best Translations

As you can see, the task of translating Vietnamese into Norwegian is filled with pitfalls. The characteristics of the languages are so different that without a close knowledge of both languages you will have an awkward translation at its best, and an inaccurate one at worst. In short, working with translators who have advanced linguistic competence and cultural knowledge in both languages can make the difference between a mediocre and high-quality translation.

About Ngoc Phan

I’m a native Vietnamese translator living in Norway. I translate between English, Vietnamese, and Norwegian. I graduated from the University of Oslo and speak Standard Eastern Norwegian. I’m especially interested in syntax, idiomatic expressions, and colloquialisms.