Why Context Matters In Translation

In the digital world, content is the foundation of everything. Amongst many other things, it provides information, conveys opinions and persuades to act. To ensure that a text is translated accurately and represents the intended meaning and purpose, translators need to communicate with the client and gain context. It is essential for several reasons.

Firstly, knowing the context gives a clear understanding of the style of the text. 

Depending on the intended purpose, translators will adapt the text accordingly. Even small phrases such as ‘Press the button’ can be interpreted into other languages differently – it could be a call to action, which would prompt the translators to use the imperative tone, or it could be a button, in which case they would probably use an infinitive.

It is important to keep in mind that while there isn’t any distinction between these two versions of the phrase in English, other languages will distinguish the two, and the translations will differ.

Secondly, context clarifies the meaning of isolated words. 

Imagine yourself to be a translator. Your client sends you a simple request to translate the word ‘match’. But what version of ‘match’ do they want? Is it a football match, a match you use to make a flame, or maybe it’s a verb that means to be the same? 

The so-called homonyms (words that are spelled and sound identically) can be a pain to a translator because with no context it is impossible to interpret them correctly.

Thirdly, context allows consistency. 

Context allows translators to stay consistent with any other existing translations a client might already have.

For example, a company decided to add several new paragraphs to the Terms and Conditions that are displayed on their website. Good and diligent translators (the kind we are) will always check out the existing texts to ensure consistent translation of all the key terms. 

Doing this will allow for a seamless addition, and the newly added paragraphs will not stand out among the rest.

Finally, context is essential when the original text contains tags or placeholders. 

Tags and placeholders often represent non-translatable text. Usually, they are used to input numbers or dates.

For example, when we need to translate phrases such as ‘{number} books’ we need to know what the number tag will be replaced with. Depending on that, the word ‘books’ will be spelled differently in a lot of languages.

Depending on the number, the word ‘books’ will be spelled differently in different languages. And again, even though there is no difference in English, translators do need that information to ensure accuracy.

There you have it. Now you know a bit more about why context is so critical for making sure that translation is accurate and conveys the intended meaning. 

We at ICS-translate always take context very seriously, which allows us to produce premium quality translations. Сontact us for more info at inbox@ics-translate.com.