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Unlocking the Complexity: The Hardest Languages to Translate and Why

Unlocking the Complexity: The Hardest Languages to Translate and Why

When it comes to translation, people often think that every language is equally challenging.  However, even if translators are proficient in both languages, some languages can be more challenging to translate than others. Reasons why translation of certain languages can be more difficult include the language’s grammar rules, syntax, different writing characters, or dialect variations. Translating these languages may require a bit more time and attention and working with more experienced and specialized translation services and translators.

If you’re curious about which languages are considered the most challenging to translate, let’s take a look at the six hardest languages to translate.

Why Some Languages are Harder to Translate Than Others?

Understanding why translating certain languages can be difficult is important.  One of the primary reasons for this is that not all languages share the same roots. Translating between languages that share a common origin is relatively easier, while translating between languages that do not share a historical connection can be more challenging. Differences in syntax, grammar, and other linguistic factors between languages can also add to the complexity.

In some languages, pronunciation can significantly alter the meaning of words, making translation challenging, especially in written texts where pronunciation is not a factor. Similarly, there are words that have the same spelling and pronunciation in a language but can have different meanings. Paying attention to context is crucial in translating such words to avoid errors.

Differences in the number of characters used in a language can also pose challenges for translation.  Languages with a larger number of characters provide more room for errors, as small character mistakes can substantially change the meaning of a text.  These errors, although subtle, can have significant impacts.


6 Most Hardest Languages to Translate

Here are six of the hardest languages to translate.

1.  Mandarin Chinese

The primary reason Mandarin Chinese translation is considered one of the most difficult is its inclusion of over 50, 000 written characters. According to some, this number may exceed 80, 000, and providing an exact count is very challenging.  Additionally, the differences between characters can sometimes be incredibly subtle, but trained eyes can discern them.  Furthermore, the language’s tonal nature and the fact that word meanings can change based on pronunciation add another layer of complexity.  The presence of numerous homophones and idioms also complicates translation.

All these factors make both learning Mandarin Chinese and translating it into other languages exceptionally challenging.

2.  Arabic

Like Mandarin Chinese, Arabic also contains a significant number of words, and the pronunciation of words can alter their meanings.  Additionally, the presence of numerous dialects in Arabic is one of the primary factors that make its translation challenging.  If it’s unclear which Arabic dialect is used in a text, translating it into a different dialect can lead to significant inaccuracies.

Another difficulty in Arabic lies in the formation of letters.  Each letter can be written differently depending on their position within a word, and written Arabic only includes consonants, with vowels never being written.  All these factors contribute to making Arabic one of the most challenging languages to translate.

3.  Thai

Thai characters, which are not influenced by Western languages, are part of the less common Khmer script.  Having approximately five dozen silent and vowel letters makes translation challenging.

In some cases, there are no spaces between words in Thai, and punctuation marks may be absent in the text.  The absence of uppercase and lowercase letters in Thai is also among the challenging factors for translators.

4.  Korean

Korean, known as an isolated language with no genetic relation to any languages currently in use, is spoken exclusively in Korea and a few other communities.  Korean stands as one of the most challenging languages for translators due to its unique syntax and distinct characters.

Pronunciations and grammatical rules also differ significantly from most norms, and the pronunciation of words often affects their meanings. Another reason for the difficulty of Korean is its extensive vocabulary, which includes around 170, 000 words.  When slang and borrowings from other languages are included, this number can exceed one million, making direct translation of the language quite challenging.

5.  Japanese

Japanese is an exceptionally rich language with thousands of characters.  In addition to its complex spoken language, Japanese also features a different writing system.  These are among the primary reasons that make Japanese one of the most challenging languages for translators, along with significant grammatical differences compared to other languages.

6.  Hungarian

Despite having only 26 characters, Hungarian incorporates some of the most complex grammar rules that any language can possess.  Different grammar rules, such as using suffixes for indicating tense and possession, can be confusing.

Furthermore, due to the significant role idioms play in Hungarian, the cultural context is highly important in translation.  Even translators not being well-versed in idioms alone can lead to inaccuracies in translation.

Use Localize for Hardest Languages to Translate

If you need to translate a source language into a challenging target language, it’s essential to work with localization services that can provide you with professional-level assistance.  Especially when dealing with the translation of official documents in the hardest languages to translate, selecting the right translation service is of utmost importance.  To achieve high-quality results through a fast, reliable, and efficient translation, you should collaborate with a trusted translation service provider.

Bekir Diri
Bekir Diri

Bekir Diri, founder of Atlas Localization, studied at Trakya University, Department of Translation and Interpretation. He gained industry experience with his MA in Translation Studies in Istanbul 29 Mayis University, with his thesis titled “Turkish Issues in Game, Mobile Application and Web Localization”, while also improving himself in the field. He also lectures about Translation Technologies, Project Management and Localization in Istanbul 29 Mayis University.

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