Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Idioms, as linguistic idiosyncrasies, present some of the most difficult material for translators of a foreign language to successfully process. Most scholars believe that every spoken language on Earth includes a long list of idioms that have developed as unique characteristics of that language. Though some may be translations from older slang of other languages, both native and borrowed expressions are difficult for many translators or translation programs.

The difficulties in translating idioms arise from two different characteristics of language. The first is that language is constantly evolving, and that new terms and phrases are frequently incorporated into language to describe new ideas. This is especially true for technical fields, where advancements in technology necessitate new terminology and language.

Secondly, the meaning of many idioms often does not correspond to that idiom's individual components. For example, the idiomatic meaning of "can of worms" bears little resemblance to a literal can of worms. This presents unique problems for translation software that may operate on a word-to-word basis, as literal translations of the component words often produce inaccurate or unintelligible target-language text.

Translating Idioms with Software

Computer-assisted translation software solves some of the problems of idiomatic translations by incorporating detailed glossaries of technical, business, and conversational idioms. They often process the source material in blocks or phrases, and may even compare it with past translations to produce a list of all possible translation options. Though it is ultimately up to the user to select the correct option, computer-assisted translation programs can greatly simplify the process of translating difficult or obscure idioms and slang.

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