Why Translating Slang is “On Fleek”

iugroupTranslation Blog

Everyday there seems to be a new slang word or phrase that becomes the trendy thing to say. As crazy as it may sound, it’s essential for translators to be able to transmit slang, regional sayings and other common phrases in documents.

Joe Biden meme - Translating slang

It’s also important to note that certain slang phrases are understood and/or used by different demographics. So, while humorous, if President Obama took Joe Biden’s advice and addressed the nation with “on fleek,” it would lead to a number of viewers who do not understand what he is talking about. Demographically speaking, teenagers and young adults would likely be more familiar with phrases such as “on fleek” that derive from popular culture.

Translators and interpreters alike are aware of social cues and cultural references in addition to verbs, nouns, conjugations to be able to identify slang and a regional phrase and know when it’s appropriate to not use the slang term.

For example, “piece of cake” in English is used to express the simplicity of a task. It wouldn’t be surprising or shocking to see a phrase such as this in marketing pieces and advertisements. However, phrases such as this do not convey meaning when translated literally. To avoid confusion, it’s crucial for the translator to be aware of these quirks used in language.

For instance in New York, you may hear someone say “yous” or “yous guys” versus the southern states where “ya’ll” is widely spoken. All of these slang words mean “you all” or “all of you.” English speakers communicate without error and would likely subconsciously be able to immediately identify the speaker’s origin. However, in a face-to-face situation, a foreign language interpreter would translate the English “ya’ll” to “all of you” in the language of the person with limited English proficiency.

As native English speakers, these phrases are second nature because we’re familiar with the culture of the English language. But how does one immerse in slang terminology? Well, for starters the difference between American English and British English are not only seen in the written word but also the spoken word. British movies, television and theatre are excellent ways to become familiar with the differences between American and British English.

Stateside, the same tactic can be used to learn and understand legal terminology. For instance, networks like Investigation Discovery, True TV and trial documentaries get the viewer familiar with day-to-day phrases and terms used by street gangs.

All in all, who would have thought that keeping up with modern slang is “on fleek?” Or as the French would say, “en flique?”

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