Translating on a Macro Level

When I sit down to translate, whether from Danish to English or vice versa, I first read the entire text to get a feel of the scope of the project. I like to look at translation from a macro level rather than a micro level one. Google Translate and other electronic translating software programs work on text from a micro-level approach, translating one word at a time. Not only is the finished product riddled with grammatical errors, but also the original meaning of the text is lost in translation.

Expressions and sayings fall prey to the “word for word” translations. They end up butchered, at best, and all that is left is a string of words that make little to no sense when put together in a sentence.


A great example of a “word for word” translation gone wrong is the following Danish expression: “Man kan ikke både blæse of have mel in munden.” A direct translation of the expression is: “You can’t both blow and have flour in the mouth.” While this analogy makes sense, it definitely doesn’t flow as well as the English saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Most sayings have an expression of equal meaning in other languages. However, it is not always one that uses the same words or analogies. The translator must know the intricacies of both languages to convey the message accurately.

The Danish saying, “Man skal smede, mens jernet er varmt,” actually means “You should strike while the iron is hot”, although it could also be translated to “If you snooze, you lose.” Either translation is appropriate and accurate, however, it would depend on the overall text as to which expression would be most appropriate. The expression “If you snooze you lose” would not be the best choice to use in a professional document, for example. Still, someone without a deeper understanding of English might not have known which translation would be considered casual and, therefore, not the appropriate choice. So, while the meaning is the same, the context in which the translated piece must fit is of utmost important.

Using Google Translate will often confuse a person to such a degree that not even Google Maps could help them find their way back to the originally intended meaning of a text. Therefore viewing the entire document that is to be translated as a whole will ensure that the appropriate translations are being used, and prevent misinterpretations.


About ToveMaren Stakkestad

I am a bilingual Danish and English speaker currently living in Florida with my husband and four boys. I have 20-years of experience translating anything from children's books to technical documents for the financial industry. I also write SEO-friendly blog posts for several publications including my blog on parenting, “Mama in the Now”.