Common Challenges When Translating Thai & English Languages 

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I’m sure you’ve seen some movies with subtitles or read some translated books and might want to try translating one yourself. Well, welcome to the club! Translating either from English to Thai, or Thai to English is not that difficult but it’s also not that easy because translation is not just translating word-to-word. You need to understand the context as well. If you’re ready to learn what are the common challenges when translating Thai & English Languages that even professional translators have to face, let’s get started!


Both grammar structures are totally different!

Each language has its own grammar structure. Some languages’ structure may be similar to other languages but unfortunately, that’s not the case for Thai and English languages. English language’s tenses are indicated by verbs while Thai language’s tenses are indicated by contexts and adverbs. Also, the Thai language puts adjectives/adverbs behind the noun or verb which in English is the opposite.

A very clear example would be the word “chocolate milk”. When you hear that in English, you’ll think of milk with chocolate flavour, but in Thai, it refers to that sweet chocolate bar (“milk chocolate” in English). This can be confusing sometimes, translator or not.


Translating idioms and slang words can be challenging

Books and movies always include idioms or slang words and translating those can be challenging because you can’t translate them word-to-word. You need a clear understanding of the context and knowledge of both languages’ idioms and slang words. For example, there’s a Thai idiom that said “eat in the house, poop on the roof” (กินบนเรือนขี้รดบนหลังคา – Kin bon ruean kee rod bon lang kha), will you know what that means? It actually means “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. If you don’t know the idioms in the other language, you won’t get the proper translation, right?


Choice of words is important

If you don’t use proper words in your translations, the sentences will sound weird. You need to understand that one word can mean a lot of different things, so you have to choose the correct word according to the context. The word “date” is a good example. When someone says “I love eating dates”, it doesn’t mean she eats people she went on a date with. Instead, a date is a kind of fruit. Another example would be the word “นั่ง” (nang – sit) which In English can mean either sit or sat since Thai’s verbs don’t indicate the time, it’s your job to choose the right word for your translations.

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You can’t guess technical terms!

Another challenging thing for translating is the technical terms. In general conversations, you can interpret and play with the words either to ensure the conversation flow or because you don’t know how to translate that sentence. It’s different when it comes to technical terms, though. You’ll have to do some research to find what do they call “pneumonia” or “hyperglycemia” in Thai, right? Those words are very specific and you won’t be able to guess their meanings.


Dialects and localized language

In Thailand, each part of the country has its own dialect. The word “Tum” in Central Thailand becomes “Ya” in the North, and “Hed” in the Northeast. Even the native English countries have their own words and slang. How many people are able to figure out that “Sanga” (an Aussie slang) means sandwich? Imagine how challenging it would be to translate those localized English to Thai, or even try to translate Thai dialects to English. It requires a lot of knowledge and research to be able to get the right translation and make it easy to read.

Translating comes with challenges but it can be fun too. After you read this article, you might want to go ahead and try translating something, or you might come to a decision that translating is not for you (which is totally fine. You’re good at something else in your own way). but still have to get something translated, let us help! Sawadee Translations offer translation service in both Thai to English and English to Thai at a very reasonable price. Contact us to get a free quote for your project now and we won’t let you down!

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Narisara Senavinin

Sara is a Thai national who has spent many years working in various locations around the world. She has a passion for language - both Thai and English - and works as a certified translator for Sawadee Translations.

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