Czysta 2/6o, Wrocław Poland

How to translate the untranslatable

How to translate the untranslatable

Each language contains some words which are unique and cannot be found in other languages. They reflect the culture and tradition of a particular country and, because of this, they seem interesting to other nations. They remind people of a phenomena that did not receive much attention in one culture but was noticed by another.  According to Tim Lomas, a lecturer at the University of East London, learning about untranslatable words in a particular language can be a valuable contribution to the process of learning about the culture of its users.[1]

There are certain techniques to deal with untranslatable words:


Adaptation enables the translator to choose the translation of an “untranslatable” expression freely in order to reflect the connotation from the original text. This method is very subjective and it doesn’t always result in good translation. However, in some cases, it may be the best way to convey the original meaning of a particular word.

Literal translation

Literal translation is used when the translator wants to be very precise. It is done without paying attention to the context and this is the reason why it can also result in poor translation. This method was used in machine translations before the development of modern translation software. While it can be applied to scientific and technical terms, it does not work in most contexts since they require more complex approach.

Are you looking for professional translators who can interpret untranslatable words properly? Call us!

Visit our fanpage on Facebook for more untranslatable words from around the world.

[1] Tim Lomas, “Untranslatable words.” Scientific American, 12.07.2016.