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The Necessity of Native Language Know-How

As Mark Twain so wisely states, choosing the right word is important. That’s why, in the translation business, it is considered good practice to always translate into your native language.

Even if one is completely fluent in a second language, ideas and concepts may be phrased slightly differently by native speakers, making sentences sound stilted, awkward, or just plain wrong if a non-native speaker writes them. Some mistakes may cause native speakers a great deal of amusement. Take these examples below (source: linguagreca.com): 

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.” –Mark Twain

In a Norwegian cocktail lounge:  “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.” It doesn’t make sense to English speakers, because “to have children” has the connotation of giving birth to children, which is most likely not what the Norwegians meant.

In a Nairobi restaurant:  “Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.” Again, we know what the translator is trying to say. But in this case, the sentence sounds like the manager is even ruder than the waitresses.

At a Budapest zoo: “Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.” While this sentence is grammatically correct, the way it is written causes native speakers to think the guard wants to be fed.

Although most translators would not make such amusing mistakes, these examples highlight the importance of linguists working in their native language. Almost right isn’t right at all.

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