The Challenges and Adaptation Tips
Translators and interpreters all recognize the fact that the Hebrew language is a vastly different from English. The two languages’ origins are dissimilar, they sound different, are written with different characters and spoken in a different cultural context.
So what are the challenges in English-Hebrew translation or vice versa?
- Length of texts
There’s been much discussion about which is the richest language in terms of vocabulary. English is a cosmopolitan language open to a range of cultural influences, enabling it to adopt and adapt new foreign words. English language tends to use more descriptive text than most other languages since its rich vocabulary can express nuances and depth.
By contrast, Hebrew – originally a biblical language with very limited outside influence that was dormant for 2000 years – has a relatively limited vocabulary and tends toward short descriptions.
Semitic languages such as Hebrew usually use three-letter root words, but add many single letter prefixes to denote conjunctions, prepositions, etc. In such a way one word in Hebrew may correspond in translation to four words in English! For example, the word ‘ כשאלך’ means ‘when I will go’.
- Masculine and feminine
Hebrew grammar has separate forms for feminine and masculine. All nouns, not just people, have a gender (including different words for counting, objects, animals and so on). So, the first challenge is to figure out the English context and its meaning and then translate it into the gender differentiation.
In Hebrew there are some letters that sound exactly the same and people learning the language may easily mistake the spelling of a word. That’s why translation must always be performed by a native speaker.
- Language Direction
Hebrew is written from right to left, while English goes from left to right. This strongly impacts the material’s layout, specifically from a visual graphics perspective. Take a brochure design for example: you need to flip the text and graphics from one side to the other. Websites require more development time – given that the standard programming language is set up for English.
- Punctuation of Hebrew text
The Hebrew text uses dots and dashes (nikud) instead of vowels. This is substantially different from English, which has vowels. However experienced Hebrew language speakers can recognize the word just by reading the context.
- Different dialect and accents
Depending on the English document’s country of origin (USA, UK, Australia, etc.), different accents may be incorporated. These need to be ‘matched’ with the appropriate Hebrew dialects, which originate from the native languages of Israel’s diverse immigrant populations (Europe, Africa, North America).
Top tips to overcome English to Hebrew translation challenges
- Broad language knowledge and experience
It is vital to ‘live’ each language fully. That means to experience actually living in a country where the language is spoken. For Hebrew this will only be Israel, but for English the range is much wider.
- Learn the culture
Living in the language’s country of origin enables you to absorb the culture and learn expressions, slang and dialect. This is invaluable when handling interpretation and text translation assignments.
- Allocate space
When translating Hebrew to English, bear in mind that English will be longer and require more space for the layout; a 200-page book in Hebrew may translate into a 300-page book in English!
- Love languages
At Lichi Translations we pride ourselves on doing highly accurate, relevant and timely English-Hebrew translations (and vice-versa).
We always ensure that our expert team can engage their passion for languages and translations. This is not routine, cut-and-dried translation work. It’s inspirational. Each project gets the thought, careful craftsmanship that it deserves!