Translators are known for their linguistic abilities and extensive vocabularies – it’s how they make a living. They are skilled at translating to and from one or more languages. Yet even translators sometimes struggle to find just the right words for every situation.
For non-professionals who speak other languages, such as those who have moved abroad or have to use a second language with family members, the inability to find the correct words can be just as frustrating as it is for translators who need them for work.
Grasping for the right words
We’ve all experienced those moments when the right word feels like it is on the tip of our tongue, but just won’t come out. It can happen in your native language as well as in other languages that you speak and is often an irritating moment.
The inability to express oneself eloquently is usually left behind with childhood, so it can be frustrating when such moments reoccur during our adult years. Stuttered sounds and a bemused facial expression are often the result.
Ways to say you can’t say it
The most likely response from anyone in this situation is to find a workaround – an equivalent set of words that will express a similar meaning and still get the point across, even if the ideal words can’t be found. Though the resulting phraseology may be a little clumsy, if you’ve managed to get your point across then the dialogue will at least be able to continue, rather than grinding to a complete halt.
Of course, when all else fails, the power of gestures should not be forgotten. Dr Albert Mehrabian’s famous and oft-quoted statistic that only 7% of communication is conveyed through words (with the remaining 93% broken down into 38% vocal elements and 55% nonverbal elements such as facial expressions, posture and gestures), demonstrates the power of non-verbal communication when words fail us. Though you might feel silly miming what you mean, your gestures can be a powerful tool when you can’t find the words to express yourself.
For the professionals
For professional translators working on complex documents, the frustrations of not finding the right words can sadly not be gestured away. The internet, a good dictionary and the use of synonyms are useful resources in such a situation. You may not be able to find the words you are looking for in the target language, but if you can think of an equivalent in the original language then often the correct phrasing in the target language will not be far behind.
For those utterly frustrating words that just won’t come, no matter how hard you try to think of them, be aware of the power of the subconscious. Move on and focus on something else and, as often as not, you’ll find that the correct words pop into your head a short while later, without your conscious mind even thinking about them.
How did you handle a situation where you couldn’t find the correct words? Use the comment box to let us know how you managed.