I can sympathize. I know you’ve been thinking long and hard about getting that translation out the door, but there’s this line or word that’s just stumping you. Sometimes the right translation synonym seems to elude you, and the minutes start slowly turning into hours. How do you solve translation dilemmas like these?

Well, first, it’s all about knowing about the resources at our disposal. You see, dictionaries and thesauruses (now that’s a mouthful!) are still a part of a translator’s daily life. But if you’re going to be a translator in the 2020s, or thinking about hiring one, it’s time to modernize! Any translator worth their weight in gold is going to be using the latest and greatest to avoid those translation mishaps that make anyone in the trade quake in their boots just thinking about.

Hey, we’re all human, I know, and even machines mess up occasionally (read: often). But, there’s no excuse for professionals to shirk their duty when it comes to minimizing these would-be headaches. Will these ideas help you, or your translator, never comes up against one of these “translation synonym” road bumps? No. As they say: “that’s the job,” and it comes with a certain amount of frustration and difficulty.

But, minimizing the risk and making all of our collective lives easier? You can bet that’s doable! Let’s get goin’!

But if you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:

Why there’s no perfect translation

Seems like a downer title to start things off with, huh? But the reality of it is not quite so negative. In fact, some difficulty may be baked in the nature of translation itself. Let’s do a short recap so we can all get on the same page.

According to our article Translation Earbuds: Are They for You?:
Translation Synonym and language localization

Translation entails conveying the meaning from one language into another in written form. The structure of translation works as follows:

  • The translator evaluates the original document or text in the source language.
  • They then use their linguistic abilities to translate the document int the target language.
  • They proofread or edit the translation to confirm that it carries the intended meaning and follows grammatical rules.
  • If necessary, they may have to provide proof or certification of some sort, like an apostille seal.
  • Some clients will require the text to be back-translated for additional confirmation of accuracy. This is especially prevalent in the medical or tech industries.

As you know, translation deals with our best attempts at conveying information from one language into another.  Most people not versed with this technical discipline believe that it’s the kind of job anyone with a cursory knowledge of two languages can attempt. After all, isn’t it”just” a matter of finding a translation synonym in both languages, doing that for everything in a text, and calling it a day? Not exactly, and not by a longshot! If this were the case, we would probably be calling translation “conversion,” and the reason we don’t is that we can’t do it.

In fact, even true bilinguals sometimes have a hard time with translation.

How can this be? Well, it ties into the same translation synonym issue I was discussing above. Basically, people think about literal translation as a way to go. But that’s wrongheaded, and can lead lead to trouble.

What is a literal translation? In our article about the subject, we say:

If translation is about conveying the meaning behind words, a literal translation is just about the words themselves. That means that key concepts like specialty, localization, context, nuance, etc. get thrown right out the window. Does this give us an excuse to use the word “defenestration” and this sweet montage? Yes. Yes, it does.

Word-for-word or literal translation is devoid of shades of meaning. It does not convey the greater intent behind a text, which a translator has to have a firm grasp on. It is just an attempt to find word analogs between two languages. A sort of textual “pin the tail on the donkey” game.

Language is a multifaceted, sometimes arbitrary game.

This ties into the idea of there not being a perfect translation, and why “good enough” is what a translator should shoot for. Languages have different structures, syntax, and morphology. They rely on slightly different rules and conventions to transmit meaning. A perfectly valid phrase in Japanese may not have a perfect simile in English. Actually, it may not even make one iota of sense if it’s translated literally!

Translation synonym quandaries

So, what’s a translator to do if they reach one of these dilemmas?! Well, first of all, don’t panic. There are perfectly good situations to deploy the “?!”, and this one’s not it. Ideally, a good translator is set up in the following way:

  • They’re very proficient in the language they’re translating from, and natives in the one they’re translating into. Is it possible for them to have complete command of both languages in this chain? Yes, but you’ll find that’s exceedingly rare. That’s why the best-case scenario (or the most realistic) is the one I described first.
  • They read the text, and they proceed with the translation. As they encounter translation synonym issues, they proceed to dutifully solve them.

Now, what is “dutiful” in this case? It means practicing discernment, for one. And knowing that a translator is essentially a writer. That means that they sometimes must use their writerly skills to coin new phrases or to circumvent sticky language traps. Them’s the breaks, as they say. And yes, I’m talking about an oft-overlooked part of the thankless task of being a translator.

We’ve also written at length about the “beauty vs precision” dilemma in translation in numerous articles. One of the latest is Translating Phrases: Beauty or Precision?

While precision is valued more highly, sometimes a translator has no recourse but to perform aesthetic or structural changes for a phrase to keep making sense. This also applies to the translation synonym quandary.

But what happens when discernment is not enough, the clock is ticking, the deadline approaches, and turnaround is king? You turn to technological solutions!


The first thing a translator should turn to is language databases. Sure, they cost money, but every translator who’s calling themselves a professional should be using them. These include translation memories, glossaries, technical databases, etc. Simply put, if you’re not using them, you’re doing it wrong. You’re doing yourself and your clients a disservice.

Translation Synonym and language localization

In our Translation Tools – What Do You Really Need? article, we recommend the following:

  • SDL Trados Studio – This tool comes up with a pre-translation from a memory, offers it to the translator who then accepts it completely or modifies it to the need of their project. The more information there is in the translation memory, the faster and more precisely can the translator do his job. It works best in collaborative projects.
  • MemoQ – is more geared towards individual translators and it works on Windows systems. It allows the translator to create a terms glossary and reuse translations. It also allows the user to add reference materials and get suggestions from other sources.
  • Transifex – is a cloud-based system that is essentially a localization platform that is particularly useful for all digital translations. It is also useful for marketers as they can create multilingual experiences.
  • Poedit -is for tech-oriented professionals that work on translating apps and sites with gettext. Experience users consider it easy to use and intuitive.
  • MadCap Flare – This tool is geared towards translators that work with medical or policy documents. It is a content editing tool that works with a wide range of file types. These include all, from Word documents and PDFs to HTML5 and .NET files.
  • Linguee -This is actually a designated website. On one hand, it allows the translator to check the meaning of a word or a phrase. On the other, it allows the user to check for context. Its current database contains 1,000,000,000 translations.

And that’s just to start with. There are many resources, both free and paid-for, that can increase turnaround time, minimize mistakes, and help translators help themselves, and each other!

Do I need translation tools to succeed? The final word

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, no. Translators have been performing an admirable job for decades without the need for tools. Well, not quite, because they had other resources that did the work databases do now (dictionaries, for one). No translator works in isolation, it’s always wise to remember that.

But what if my translator is such a hotshot that they don’t need any help? Well, that could be the case, but who would you rather trust? A cook that says that they can create a five-course meal with just a spatula and a little flair or one who had a well-stocked kitchen with all the proper tools?

Remember: the idea here is not just to minimize mistakes. Give a good translator/writer ample time to come up with a word or phrase variation, and everything’s golden (depending on the complexity of the translation synonym issue). But in 2020, what we’re really strapped for is time, isn’t it? It’s not about spending endless afternoons in a library delicately translating phrases from some dusty old tome with our quill. It’s about getting sensitive documents out to clients who desperately need them for private or corporate purposes.

That means that having the right translation tools on hand is just being responsible. And don’t even get us started on automatic translations! We’ll link to more articles below, but if you find that a translator’s been using a program to automate their translations instead of putting in actual work, don’t work with them! Don’t accept subpar work!

To sum up, it’s a translator’s duty to understand what works best for each situation, and to use every tool at their disposal. Even purists have to adjust to changing times, and that means using everything on-hand to maximize our work and make every penny count.

If you want translators that are doing the exact kind of work you need, you know where we are!