Lost In Translation: Why Google Translate Is Your Enemy

Language is a complex function of the human brain. Every language is unique. Sometimes direct translations between languages are not possible because of intricate dynamics within each tongue. That means that when what you have to say really matters, you had better hire skilled translation services. Below are some examples of phrases that are not translatable into English.

Deja Vu

Most Americans are familiar with the French term deja vu. When it is literally translated, it means "already seen", but anyone who has ever experienced the sensation of deja vu can tell you that there is a lot more to the feeling than having seen something before. The phrase has become ubiquitous in the United States, and most people understand the deeper meaning behind the words, but there are still many other words and phrases used in other cultures that have no direct translation into English.

Koi No Yokan

Some languages are very similar, and others are vastly different. Japanese is about as dissimilar a language from English as any other on the planet. Instead of a single set of letters, Japanese is written in three entirely different sets of characters. So not only are the words koi no yokan not directly translatable, they also cannot be expressed in their original language at all. Koi no yokan loosely translates to the feeling one experiences when meeting someone for the first time and having the sense that falling in love with them is unavoidable. That's a large mouthful to convey what the Japanese are able to express in three simple words. 


When discussing negative emotions, sometimes less is more. How would you describe the feeling of loss, longing, grief, and feeling the pain of another person, all in the same emotion? One could write an epic poem on the subject. The Czech people took another approach, and gave that feeling a name using the single word litost. 


Singing is a human compulsion, shared by very few in the animal kingdom. It's not unusual for humans to feel compelled to sing in times of strong emotions, whether they're positive or negative. When you miss someone very much, you've probably got some sad songs on your mind. The Romanians have a word for that. Dor comes from the word dorinta, which means "wish." What a lovely way to describe that feeling.


Most Americans wouldn't describe Polish, which is a language with Germanic roots, as flowing and graceful. It's full of harshly pronounced consonants and glottal stops that make it difficult for an unpracticed mouth to enunciate. Take a single look at the word tumiwisizm and you can see why. Tumiwisizm describes an apathetic attitude borne of overconfidence rather than depression. In English, if you want to describe such an attitude, you'd need to clarify what type of "apathy" you're talking about, since people can show a lack of interest or care for a wide variety of reasons. 

Senora vs. Senorita

Be careful how you address women in Mexico and South American countries. Senora is a term describing a married woman, much like the English "missus." Senorita is equivalent to the English "miss;" however, calling an older woman senorita is not a way to earn her favor, as it implies she had her children out of wedlock. Culturally, this can be a serious faux pas, and earn you a glare of contempt.

As you can see, trying to directly translate a sentence from one language to another poses some serious challenges. It's not uncommon for mistakes to be made and offense to be taken by novice speakers of new languages. Don't take that risk. Hire an experienced translator.