Localisation challenges of Central European languages: Top Five Tips for Translating from English into Slovak

This post is a follow-up to our buyers’ guide to the Slovak language. Companies and organisations can learn about common problems that may arise when translating English content into Slovak.

Clients new to the Slovak market will surely find that localisation into Slovak is essential. However, they may soon find themselves facing unique challenges in the process. So as to understand potential problems, and how to best address them, we sought advice from our expert Slovak translators. Experienced in translation from English to Slovak, and well-versed in the demands of both languages, they offered five top tips for overcoming localisation challenges in Slovak

Keep your Slovak dictionaries close

And we mean your Slovak monolingual dictionaries.

Slovak is a standardised language, and has been for many years – first officially codified in the 18th century – and is thus governed by many strict rules. When in doubt, every translator should turn to the main linguistic institute of Slovakia – Ľ. Štúr Institute of Linguistics. There you will also find an online, user-friendly portal consisting of helpful dictionaries.

“Additionally, you can also search through Jazyková poradňa (Language help), and ask questions on proper word use, prepositions, formatting, and punctuation. And if you don’t find your answer here, you can call them. We did once, and they were very helpful!”

Beware False Friends

Slovak has a rich vocabulary, gained from centuries of mixing with other European languages. Many languages have had a great influence on Slovak, including Czech, Hungarian, German, English, and Italian.

As a result, Slovak is plagued by false friends, or seemingly obvious translations that are actually incorrect. The problem is that that source and target words may share the same spelling or pronunciation.

“Translators must closely check the meaning of words that may appear to be direct translations of foreign words. Just because they have the same stem, doesn’t mean that they have the same meaning! Keep your Slovak dictionaries close at hand.”

Make sure you don’t fall for these false friends, as seen in the examples below.

EN source

Wrong SK translation

Correct SK translation

eventually

eventuálne

nakoniec, konečne

actually

aktuálne

vlastne, v skutočnosti, totiž

sensible

senzitívny

rozumný, vnímateľný

literal

literárny

doslovný

traffic

trafika

premávka, doprava

 

Avoid using “Bohemisms”

One of the most common errors that many translators make is the use of so-called Bohemisms or Czechisms. Taken from the word “Bohemia”, the old name for the Czech Kingdom, these are words and expressions that were borrowed or derived from the Czech language during the Czechoslovak era.

The problem, is that these are still commonly used in current written and spoken language in Slovakia. However, as a translator, it is extremely important to remember that these are considered substandard and should not be found in any translations.

“To avoid using Bohemisms, be sure to run a quick spell check through the document. Slovak spell-checker systems will usually spot them right away. To find the correct Slovak equivalent, a quick search in the online dictionary mentioned above should help.”

The Slovak Republic Ministry of Culture has even published a list of common errors in Slovak, many of which are Bohemisms.

Know your audience

As many translators know, English is a lot less fussy than other languages when it comes to formality.

In a translation, Slovak formality laws must be considered. Slovak speakers use formal speech to address strangers, the elderly, and important people in society.

“We as translators must be sure of the intended audience of the translation. We need to alter our translation based on whether it is a medical prescription for the elderly or a marketing promotion for young people, for example. Sticking with informal speech may offend Slovak readers, so we must do careful QA checks as well!”

Banish English word order!

Slovak syntax differs significantly from that of English, though not necessarily in the traditional sense. Although it officially follows the same order as English, subject – verb – object, word order is used freely, and the focus is often placed at the beginning of a sentence.

Therefore, it is very important to avoid simply translating word-for-word. We don’t want the reader to be able to figure out exactly how the sentence was composed in English. Rather, we want it to sound natural in Slovak.

“The trick is to look at every sentence as an idea. Ignore the individual words. Find the overall meaning, and then decide how that idea can best be expressed in Slovak.”

Localising content into Slovak is no simple matter. Translators obviously need to be native Slovak speakers, but also show a deep understanding of the language’s unique history and grammatical structure. The problems discussed here are common but complex, and are only resolved by expertise earned from experience. Clients new to the Slovak market are thus encouraged to seek an experienced LSP with expert native Slovak translators.

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