When performing translations, writing skills are a key differentiator. The main factor distinguishing superb translations and poor ones is a translator’s writing skills. A key skill is making accurate word choices that convey the author’s intended meaning. However, many translators tend to use common words instead of selecting words that reflect a more meaningful sense of the text.
As a translator, your word choices can make or break your translation’s effectiveness. You may have overused words in English that don’t clearly express the intention of the source document. These most overused words may be causing you to mistranslate specific ideas; missing the mark as you try to reflect the author’s ideas. There are also some words that cannot be translated literally.
By distancing yourself from overly common word choices, you can more adequately translate the author’s ideas. A broader vocabulary gives you more options to translate tricky texts. A wider range of words accords you more credibility as a translator.
Following is a list of overused words along with alternatives that will expand your vocabulary and improve your translations.
Read more: English words that can’t be translated
The word “angry” is far too general to effectively convey the idea and intention behind it. Teachers can be angry at their students. A wife may be angry at her husband. And victims of crime may be angry at criminals. But aren’t there better ways to more exactly express this strong emotion?
From your source text, what can you glean? Is the person just angry, or is he annoyed, bitter, cross, displeased, enraged, fuming, furious, heated, incensed, indignant, infuriated, irate, irritated, livid, offended, outraged, resentful, riled, or just uptight?
What’s the heck is the author expressing? By reading your source text carefully, you can make better choices and transcend generality into more explicit and emotive specificity. Otherwise you readers will be miffed. Maybe even peeved!
It seems as if everything is ‘beautiful’ these days. There are so many beautiful scenes, beautiful beaches, beautiful cities, beautiful restaurants, and beautiful people!
But is that what your translation should read? Or was the beautiful thing more exactly alluring, appealing, bewitching, charming, dazzling, delightful, elegant, exquisite, gorgeous, graceful, lovely, magnificent, marvelous, pleasing, radiant, stunning, or sublime? Try to turn a comely or even ravishing phrase!
He’s a big guy; she has big feet; that’s a big mountain. It’s really a big house, and the sky is big, too. But aren’t there better ways to express bigness?
He can be humongous. She can have enormous feet. It could be a gigantic mountain, a huge house, or a vast star-speckled sky. There are abundant alternatives to “big” when translating.
Words like colossal, considerable, extensive, hefty, mammoth, massive, monster, sizable, substantial, and tremendous can help you steer clear of the commonplace and make an immense, even gargantuan, improvement in your translation!
Is something ‘funny’ or is it more accurately a knee-slapper, amusing, clever, entertaining, good-humored, hilarious, laughable, ridiculous, silly, whimsical, or witty, or just funny? The word you choose creates an image in readers’ minds.
Which word best conveys the author’s intention in the source text? Your translation will either reflect tired banalities or be perceived as humorous.
Good deals, good people, good things, good lives, good movies, good songs, good books, and good food abound in writing today.
But try alternatives like decent, excellent, fantastic, first-rate, marvelous, outstanding, superb, superior, terrific, valuable, and worthwhile.
When you expand your vocabulary, and you’re investing in your career. Instead of relying on worn out words, more fabulous choices can brighten your translation.
Instead of “happy,” consider alternatives like blissful, cheerful, chipper, content, contented, delighted, ecstatic, elated, flying high, glad, jolly, joyful, joyous, jubilant, lively, merry, overjoyed, peaceful, perky, playful, pleasant, thrilled, tickled pink, upbeat, or walking on air to spice up your translations.
There are only so many happy people, happy towns, happy campuses, or happy dolphins in the world. Express happiness in more varied ways to more accurately reflect the author’s intended meaning. You’ll be delighted that you did!
Life has important events, important meetings, important appointments, important people, important locations, and important messages. What about the more important events, meetings, appointments, people, locations, and messages? If everything stays important, where’s the urgency in your translation?
What if things weren’t just important but instead, critical, crucial, decisive, essential, exceptional, far-reaching, grave, imperative, large, marked, meaningful, necessary, paramount, relevant, significant, urgent, or weighty?
These alternatives can surely help you distinguish what’s really “important.”
One of the safest (and most boring) words in English is “interesting.” But it doesn’t really tell us much about how something is perceived, or which precise meaning the author intended.
Words such as alluring, amusing, arresting, attractive, captivating, compelling, curious, delightful, enchanting, engaging, enthralling, entrancing, exotic, fascinating, gripping, impressive, intriguing, pleasing, provocative, refreshing, stimulating, striking, and thought-provoking can tell us much more what a writers seeks to convey about an action, event, person, comment, clue, or sound.
Would you rather have an interesting translation or a riveting one?
When a person understands something, we might say they know it. But we can also say someone is cognizant of, comprehends, is conversant in, discerns, fathoms, gets the idea, grasps, is learned in, perceives, realizes, recognizes, or is versed in something as well.
With all these options, why is “know” used so often? Perhaps because many writers are not acquainted with the alternatives. As a translator, do you “know” how to translate, or are you “well-versed” in the translation arts? Who knows?
Do you like a person or do you, admire, adore, appreciate, approve of, care for, cherish, delight in, esteem, fancy, indulge in, keen on, partial to, prize, relish, take an interest in or value them?
There are so many ways to express “like” but they all have distinctive nuances. So, when you use “like,” it may not be an exact match. Your writing can resort to commonplace, tired words, or it can revel in and savor the nuances which the author intended.
Your translation should not rest content with “little” when it can use diminutive, dinky, imperceptible, inappreciable, infinitesimal, insufficient, limited, meager, microscopic, mini, miniature, minute, petite, scant, short-lived, skimpy, slight, sparse, teeny-tiny, undersized.
A “little” here and there can add up to create fuzzy, boring translations. Wouldn’t you rather grow your Lilliputian vocabulary to impress and captivate all the Gullivers?
We have many people, many stores, many businesses, many props, many schools, many planes, and many cars. Why not clarify and specify by using myriad, countless, copious, diverse, numerous, plentiful, a plethora of, or several, ot umpteen? Your translations will read better and umpteen readers will enjoy them.
There’s a trend in English with using the comparative helper, “more,” instead of adding -er when possible. For example, instead of “fun,” people say, “more fun.” As a result, “more” is said, but less is conveyed. It becomes an empty word.
A basic rule is that we add -er to words with one syllable. Cold becomes colder, hot becomes hotter, big becomes bigger, and so on. However, there are exceptions. Funner, for example, does not fly. You can also use comparative adverbs like increasingly, frequently or, well, comparatively.
Less is more. By using relatively specific comparatives, you can add substantially to the accuracy of your translations.
There are new people, new jobs, new food, new restaurants, new windows, new cars, new fields, new inventions, and new faces. It seems we are surrounded by new things.
Alternative abound, like advanced, creative, fledgling, imaginative, inventive, modern, novel, one of a kind, original, or updated. Use more distinctive words to achieve better translation results.
Oh, how nice! But overusing this word is not. When describing people, authors may prefer you to translate with more exact words like attractive, charming, cordial, delightful, gentle, gracious, kind, lovely, polite, or thoughtful.
If you do, your translations may be more friendly and helpful, not to mention more considerate of the author’s intent.
We read about other people, other kinds, other companies, and other ideas. But there are diverse alternatives which may be more descriptive and true to the author’s intent.
Try using a variety of, additional, auxiliary, dissimilar, distinct, extra, fresh, further, spare, or various to sharpen the translated expression.
Other translators may not do it, but your translation skills are exceptional.
When referring to beauty, pretty often wins out. But, “she’s pretty” may not reflect the author’s intended meaning accurately.
Maybe she was a looker, appealing, charming, comely, cute, elegant, fair, fine, foxy, good-looking, graceful, handsome, or lovely instead? It’s not always easy to find the best words, but in the end, you’ll be pleasing your customers with more appealing world choices.
Why be sad, or overuse it in your translations? Better to use bitter, blue, dejected, depressed, despairing, despondent, dismal, distressed, doleful, downcast, glum, grief-stricken, languishing, mournful, sorrowful, or troubled?
Don’t overuse “sad” in translation. You’ll be sorry you did. Maybe even heartbroken!
True, news reporters say a lot; talk show hosts say things, and politicians say more. But more accurate and exact to choose an alternative like announced, broadcast, described, disclosed, divulged, expressed, made known, narrated, noted, proclaimed, recited, recounted, or reported? By your choice of words, the author’s intended meaning can be more accurately revealed and communicated.
So many “things” exist in life. People need to buy things. They need to find things; to share things and prepare things.
But what exactly are these things? If you examine what’s being expressed, they could be accessories, affairs, assets, baggage, bags, belongings, clothes, concerns, effects, equipment, experiences, gear, goods, junk, objects, property, tools, or worries.
Why use “things” in translation when there is lots of better stuff available
Using “very” as an adverb too often is an awfully bad habit.
If “very” doesn’t convey the intended meaning, try adverbs like absolutely, acutely, awfully, certainly, considerably, dearly, decidedly, deeply, emphatically, exceedingly, excessively, extraordinarily, extremely, greatly, highly, incredibly, largely, noticeably, particularly, profoundly, remarkably, and surprisingly.
Your translation won’t be “very” good. But it may be terribly, uncommonly, or unusually good.
By changing your words to less frequently used and more interesting ones, you might succeed in expressing an author’s ideas with greater accuracy. That may give you an edge over other freelancers, and be more satisfying for you.
Invest in a thesaurus or use one of the many free ones online. Thesaurus.com, Macmillan, Merriam-Webster, Collins, Babylon, and Thesaurus.net, can help expand your word choices. And in Microsoft Word, synonyms are just a right-click away.
Baskin Robbins offers a flavor of ice cream for each day of the month. You may not always have 31 choices for every expression, but by varying your word choices, you can add that “plain vanilla” feeling and add more flavor to your translations.
Here’s a challenge: share your pontifications on this topic in the comments below without employing the same weathered utterances!