The Challenge of Translating Foreign Documents


Translating is one of the most challenging subject to be learned by both native and foreign learners. Translation itself is the communication of meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text (Bhatia, 1992). Translating is not as easy as reading a sentence, finding the meaning of each word in the dictionary, and not as simple as replacing the words. Unlike other subjects in language learning (grammar, listening, speaking, writing, etc.), translating incorporates the learner’s first language as well as the foreign language currently learned, not just in terms of linguistics, but also in terms of culture, contextual meaning, tone, and purpose.

Translating written documents, specifically academic journal, news, or reports, may be easier due to the use of in formal language and uses literal meaning. It is not often to find formal documents written connotatively, thus translating is as simple as trying to find its language and meaning equivalency from the source-language to target-language. Most of them provide fact as it is, such as “Laporan ini dibuat pada tanggal…”, then it is easy as to translate it as “This report was made on the date of…” because we only need to find the literal meaning of the sentence without a lot of paraphrasing or shifting meaning.

However, the challenge comes when translating texts with cultural background, contextual meaning, tone, and purpose. When translating a movie from English to Bahasa Indonesia, translators encounter a variety of English-only expressions. How do we Indonesians translate “hell yeah”, “I am pooped”, or other slang often found in English? It is not possible to translate “hell yeah” as “neraka, ya”, but it should be translated as “iya, dong!” or “tentu saja!” because “hell yeah” is often used to express strong certainty and affirmation. Similarly, translator cannot translate “I am pooped” literally because it is an expression of saying that the speaker is extremely tired. Thus, translating such texts will require paraphrasing and shifting meaning.