Have you found yourself in a situation where you expressed your thoughts clearly in a foreign language – or at least you thought you did – only to realize that your listener completely misunderstood your message? Languages are complex human communication systems, highly specific to cultural environment and technical context. Fluency and competency require lifelong immersion and daily use of a particular language to be authoritative. Compelling communication depends on the speaker’s ability to use the listener’s ‘dialect’ to get the message across without obstacles.

Your article or presentation was conceived in your linguistic and cultural environment. A word-for-word translation into a foreign language often doesn’t capture the subtleties contained in your original; it may sound stilted, be hard to understand or outright misleading.

As a professional translator, my aim is to transpose your original text into the target language so that it sounds as if it had been conceived so originally. The reader should not even be aware that it is a translation because it is idiomatic and culturally authentic.

This approach to translation is often far from literal. Words may have several equivalents in a foreign language depending on context. Often, syntax and style differ considerably between languages, and ignoring this fact will make it difficult for the reader to comprehend the original content conveyed in translation.

The process entails a cultural journey: I put myself in the author’s shoes to experience the meaning of her composition. Once I have a visceral understanding of her intent, I travel to the reader’s cultural environment and imagine a natural expression of the same ideas in a very different context, which allows me to find words and a style to express the original ideas authentically.

Needless to say that deep subject-matter expertise is required to accurately translate complex technical texts from one language into another, but mastery of writing in the target language is equally important. Spontaneous and creative expression in a language must be matched by diligent examination of usage and structure to arrive at a draft that meets professional expectations.

I have achieved my goal if the reader of your article in translation understands precisely what you want to communicate and feels you’re both speaking the same language – literally and figuratively.