What does lost in translation mean?

Lost in Translation means that the meaning given to a word or phrase is lost in translation. This can lead to misunderstandings. Let’s take the question “Do you like the Big Apple?”. If you translate the question word to word, in another language, the most basic assumption would be, whether you like to eat the fruit apple and conclusively apples in larger size. You want to answer of course and may think “Hmm. Yes, I like big apples and I’ll settle for small ones too.” The answer is being translated and you say “Yes, most often.” , or “Not much” because you don’t like apples, for example.

What is meant with the question “Do you like the big apple?”. In the example, “The Big Apple” is used as a reference point or in other words as a nickname for the metropolis “New York” in the United States. It is known as “The Big Apple”. Now you could wonder, why would someone not directly ask you whether you like New York instead of asking you if you like “The Big Apple”. This can have different reasons, for example having a different cultural backgrounds, where the term is commonly used or in other examples having different interests, or different meanings attached to what is being said. Does it matter that much? you may wonder.

It does matter, because by giving words different meanings, the expected result runs risk of being different then what was expected or hoped for. So imagine you set up a meeting with a counterpartner and that partner wants to set up a business in the United States. When they approach you and ask how you like the Big Apple (their primary choice of business location) and hear back that this is something you really don’t like, maybe never liked, that person might go on to look for another business partner. Worse, both of you might even be outraged, since it was clear to both of you why you met; “Lost in Translation”.

Sure, that’s quite the example. However, it can happen quite quickly. In my language teaching, I pay attention to what you mean and therefore, the message you want to convey. I listen and offer word alternatives to reduce”lost in translation”. Most of the time I succeed by using simple expressions. Why simple? Too often we get tangled up in long sentences and the longer the sentences, the more risk for “Lost in Translation”, or in other words “miscommunication”. Second, many words do not exist in the other languages.

Want to get to know your way of communicating better or have me help you become better in English? I offer language classes to German native speakers and non German native speakers. The benefit? If you can explain it to me, you can explain it to someone else too. Real-life learning.