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we experience people of different language background being lost-in-translation

Effective translation will convey the full meaning of a text, staying true to the intentions of the original writer. Here are some tips for you to avoid getting “lost in translation”.

we hope that you have meaningful conversations and don’t get lost in translation

I get lost in translation

We got lost in translation

I've come across this saying many times but am unsure what it means ?

edit: Thanks I now understand what it means for an idea or meaning to get lost in translation, but if it's someone gets lost in translation, what does that mean?

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  • It's a metaphor.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 20, 2021 at 13:54
  • The Farlex Dictionary of Idioms explains this well. Feb 20, 2021 at 14:40
  • Your edited narrowing: Perhaps 'they got lost in the translation' has been misapplied to translators (cf 'Jack and Jill lost themselves in profitless ...') rather than to words / ideas / ideals / nuances .... Googling 'he/she got lost in the translation" gives a handful of results, but not enough to claim that this broadening should be considered standard. I've found no dictionary support (eg Collins). Feb 20, 2021 at 17:45
  • Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation may have led to the phrase being metaphorically used in this way (for persons rather that the content of communications). Its title is deliberately ambiguous between the standard sense of the phrase and characterising its main character as metaphorically lost on a trip to a country whose language he doesn't speak, and whose culture he is unfamiliar with.
    – jsw29
    Feb 20, 2021 at 23:01

3 Answers 3

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It is easy to translate from one language to another and make a mistake by using a word that seems correct but is wrong in the complete context.

A good example is when the idea “They are working hard” (meaning that they are doing a lot of work and are making great effort) is translated from another language into English as “They are hardly working” (meaning that they are doing very little work).

Once in the Alps with Austrian friends I stopped to make a heap of stones, a cairn. On meeting them soon afterwards, in German: “What were you doing, Anton?” “I was making a little heap.” They howled with laughter: in this context a little heap is a pile of faeces. My words were correct in a naive way but my meaning was lost in translation.

The words seem correct but the meaning has been completely lost. The original idea has been “lost in translation”.

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When the meaning of something is said to be 'lost in translation' it is usually the case that the phrase which has been translated has an idiomatic meaning in the original language which it does not have in the target language. This means that when the phrase is translated it either has a different meaning in the target language or is completely meaningless.

An example of this is a line from the song Amoureuse written in French by Veronique Sanson who had a huge hit with it in the early seventies in France. The song was translated into English and recorded by Kiki Dee who also had a hit with the English version.

The original French includes the line "Je ressens la pluie d'une autre planète" which seems to have an idiomatic meaning in French but was translated into English as "I feel the rainfall of another planet" which is virtually meaningless in English even though it is a direct translation of the French. Perhaps the fact that 'pluie' means both 'rain' and 'tears' might have something to do with it.

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This is an interesting topic. I was a nurse for most of my adult life, and had to take courses in Advanced Cardiac Life Support. Here's a funny story: When a quick intervention is needed for a choking infant, you are supposed to hold him/her face down and give strong blows to the back to dislodge the foreign object. In translation to some other European language (I forgot which one) the meaning changed to "blow on back", so the foreigners thought they were instructed to blow on the infant's back.

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