Good, Good, Good, Translations

By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations – and Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations

Do you remember that wonderful Beach Boy’s song, “Good Vibrations”? I most certainly do! Donnamarie and I love the song so much that we consider the chorus to be an excellent starting point to our topic today:Beach Boys

Im pickin up good vibrations
Shes giving me excitations
Im pickin up good vibrations
(oom bop bop good vibrations)
Shes giving me excitations
(oom bop bop excitations)
Good good good good vibrations
(oom bop bop)
Shes giving me excitations
(oom bop bop excitations)
Good good good good vibrations
(oom bop bop)
Shes giving me excitations
(oom bop bop excitations)

So… here we go again. As clients, friends and casual visitors to these pages will know, our purpose in publishing them is to try to promote greater linguistic understanding. As we have seen, linguistic understanding is not as simple as taking a word in one language and changing it into a word in another language.

A few days ago a friend used Google Translations to send good wishes to her son’s new fiancée in Tokyo. My friend wished her daughter-in-law “well.” The word “well” was not translated as good or positive, it came out as water being drawn from and underground source. No harm done in a personal context, they had a good laugh over the mis-translation and it brought them closer together. My friends profited from a bad translation. This is not always the case.

Recently, documents came to light that showed how much of the case for George W. Bush’s America went to war on the basis of faulty translations. It does not appear that the translations were intentionally falsified, it simply seems that information received by the Bush Administration was badly translated and that objective interpretation was abrogated.

Emotionally and politically charged translations are especially susceptible to misunderstanding. I know I am beating the same old drum here but it’s a drum beat we must understand if we want to march forth into a peaceful and mutually understood future.

Translation is not a simple matter of changing words in one language into words in another tongue, though that is certainly a major part of the art of translation. An able, correct and expert translation must also take into account cultural, historical and political content and context.

You, the client, just want this paper with these words turned into another paper with those other words used in a language you don’t understand—and you want to trust the translator to get the idea, the point, across the language divide.

That’s an ambition that is simple enough. If words were stand-alone such a simple ambition would work. It isn’t that easy. Words are NOT stand-alone. They are embedded in the language in which they exist, they can and very often do carry a load of linguistic and cultural baggage along with them.

As we’ve mentioned before, the English word “home” cannot be directly translated into French because there is no French word that has the emotional content of the English word “home.” On the other hand, the “yes/no” meaning of the French word “si” has no equivalent in English.

French and English have the same linguistic roots; they share a long cultural history. The differences between Indo-European languages and Chinese, for example, are enormous. Translators who are just word-smiths—and we include computer translating programs in the definition of word-smiths—cannot possibly get down to the real nitty gritty of correct linguistic and cultural exchange.

Computer translating programs appear to provide short cuts, but all they really provide are short circuits. There are no short cuts to linguistic understanding. Like my friend who tried to wish her son’s fiancée well, her well-wishes came out the computer as a bucket that brought up water from an underground source, not as good wishes for the future of her son’s union with the young lady.


The bottom line for me is that many if not most people approach the issue of translation with an incorrect mindset.  This incorrect mindset is best exemplified by translating programs that take a word from one language and attempt to turn it into a word from another language. Such programs do not take into account the fact that language is a very slippery thing at best. Such programs are not designed to take into account the social, cultural, economic, political and historic back story of the words they attempt to translate.

If you really need to communicate an idea across the linguistic divide, you will be much better served by placing that communication need in the hands of a qualified translator, and not relying on the capacious vagaries of non-professionals and scammers you can find at cut-rate prices on the Web.

By the way, I, Donnamarie, am not a translator myself. I am a certified French-English bilingual, but I am not qualified to translate. Adriana and her fellow translators (one of whom is my multilingual daughter, who IS qualified to translate to and from four languages) are experts at their work. They really are dedicated to providing the best translations possible.

I’ll beat our own drum here: it’s hard to go wrong with Adarve Translations. We care about what we do, we’re good at it, and we do the best we can. What more could you want?

All the best,

Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, & Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC

Adriana Adarve - Adarve TranslationsAbout the Authors: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as multi-cultural. Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.

2 thoughts on “Good, Good, Good, Translations”

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