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Bad translation just doesn’t add up. Ironically, my entire business philosophy today hangs on the very element of science which caused me to hate it with such a passion in my youth. Over my many years learning the ropes of my profession, and as a business owner in a foreign country, I have come to recognise the absolute key to effective translation is accuracy. In other words, the finest of details really do matter – a lot. I would even go as far as to say that, in the translation and localisation industries at least, right first time = happy customers.

The phrase ‘learning the ropes’ is an extension of the nautical term ‘knowing the ropes’, describing when a sailor can tie the full and abundant range of knots needed to sail safely and efficiently. It takes skill, commitment, and experience for a novice to get to this point, and often lives can depend upon a sailor’s expert knot-tying – particularly under pressure. In Spanish, however, you simply wouldn’t use this phrase (although we are equally proud of our seafaring heritage). Instead, you would say, ‘Cogerle el tranquillo’. Literally translated, this means to get the knack of, which pretty much means the same thing, but without the need for a seafaring explanation to a non-native speaker.

In translation, details like this can have a massive effect on how easily a message gets across, because properly understanding the intention of the text is paramount to avoiding the wrong transfer of meaning. Otherwise, you could end up with a beautifully written story conveying ideas or concepts that have no bearing on the writer’s original intention, and that constitutes an enormous no-no in translation.

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