When it comes to translation, it’s not only about understanding the meaning behind each word, but also the interpretation of context and culture, which captures subtle connotations and nuances in the target language. Southeast Asian languages, as well as the languages of the Middle East, have a reputation for being significantly more difficult to translate due to substantial differences from other languages in terms of text, vocabulary and grammar.
Languages have been grouped together in families that are related through their origination from a protolanguage, which is a recorded ancestral language. Families are categorized based on noticeable similarities in the structural properties of language, which are phonology, morphology, and syntax. For example, Romance Languages are commonly known to be relevant to each other in terms of ease in learning with English as your native tongue, and are significantly less difficult of a transition than that of certain Asian languages. The difficulty of learning each language as a native English speaker is classified into 5 categories, Category I being the easiest (projecting 23-24 weeks to master) and Category V being the hardest (88 weeks). According to this classification system, the most difficult languages to learn—and therefore most difficult to localize—include numerous Southeast Asian languages like Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Cambodian. Because of their uniquely distinct script and cultural nuances, these languages are incomparable to European language and it is difficult to find any similarities.
Challenges in Vietnamese Translation
Each language provides its own context as to why translation can prove to be so difficult. Amongst the 9 major official languages in Southeast Asia, Vietnamese is belonging to the Austroasiatic family, a language family that also includes various tribal and regional languages. You can see how this detail alone indicates that this language is particularly tough from a localization standpoint, and the reasons are as follows. Vietnamese is a tonal language, meaning changing tones create different meanings of certain words—but pronunciation is not altered. An analytic language, words influenced by gender, quantity, and case of nouns are not present in Vietnamese. In these ways Vietnamese language properties are similar to those of Chinese. While there are many challenges involved in overcoming this tricky language, with the proper resources and sufficient time spent it is just as possible to master as any other.
Success in Language Localization
A successful translator must work consistently to master their target language in order to accurately convey the meaning of the message to be localized. Because as previously mentioned, it is not necessarily just about translating each word based on their defined meanings, but more importantly understanding the context of the entire message then accurately describing it using proper grammar, as well as accurate use of syntax, etc. Machine translation can be improved through learning about the construction and characteristics of these languages, and implementing those to create a seamless localization experience, however to truly capture the nuances of culture through language, having human experts is key. CSOFT’s network of in-country translators guarantees messages are received around the world the way they were meant to be – no matter how difficult the language. Translation is a prerequisite for exchange and cooperation between cultures and communities, and is therefore vital to keeping the world connected.
Written by: Mina Hostage, Executive Assistant, Boston