Translating the Untranslatable President Trump: Can it be done?

Translators always need to make sure that there are no inconsistencies, ambiguities or errors in their translations. So, translating words from politicians who use inconsistent and ambiguous language can be difficult.

Why is President Trump so problematic for translators?

President Trump’s words have baffled and confused both English language speakers and foreign language speakers for two completely different reasons. He’s often confused foreign language speakers who can’t understand the content of what he says and confused English language speakers because they can.

President Trump’s use of words is particularly challenging for French translators, whose language is known for its structure. The French language is very structured and logical, and Donald Trump’s unique speaking style is quite the opposite.

As quoted by Bérengère Viennot (French language expert), she stated that “President Trump’s vocabulary is limited, his syntax is broken; he repeats the same phrases over and over, forcing the translator to follow suit.

If they do not follow suit, they betray the spirit of the original piece.”

Here are some of the reasons why President Trump (and other politicians) have proved so baffling for translators:

1: Doesn’t finish his sent-

When the sentences drift, and the point changes the message becomes convoluted. This is partly a characteristic of President Trump’s speaking style, and partly because he knows his audience (when speaking at rallies) can finish his sentences for him. Unfortunately, for translators who do not translate word for word but look for the sentiment and meaning of the overall message, this can be incredibly complicated.

2: Uses baffling and distasteful metaphors

During President Trump’s successful campaign, he courted controversy by being derogative to Mexicans and suggesting that “China was raping America”. He was referring to trade and economics, but this causes issues for translators as it cannot be translated literally.

3: Exaggerations!

The exaggerated use of the word ‘great’ can be a big problem for translators.
Deals are huge and tremendous, and problems are enormous. All of these words translate into the same word in Chinese: da. However, this word simply means big.

4: Malapropisms (and sometimes just made up words)

These are words that sound similar to another word but mean something completely different. For example, President Trump misused the term “swatches of land”, instead of “swathes of land” in a 2016 presidential debate.

Of course, sometimes words are made up.

5: Colloquialisms

Usually, translators can choose from two methods of translating: literal translation and oblique translation. You can translate colloquialisms word for word and risk confusing your audience, or you can try and portray the true meaning of what is said, which depends on finding a similar phrase idiom or colloquialism in the target language. This can often prove challenging however, because colloquialisms and slang are often ‘by their very nature’ unique to the language in which they were spoken.

So, what do translators do when translating President Trump?

The essential dilemma is: Do you correct and decipher the gist of what is being said, or stay close to the original and hope people aren’t too confused.

There’s no simple answer. Professional translators may try and find the equivalent of President Trump’s informal colloquialisms but when it comes to correcting his linguistic errors are translators giving a correct impression of the speaker?

Author: Bérengère Viennot (

The following article is an abbreviated and ‘toned-down’ version of the original. The content relates to translation challenges which we all are guilty of and therefore we thought we would share this with you!
Overall our opinion at TW Languages is that the linguistic challenge when translating is to provide the essence and sentiment of what is being said as well as correct any linguistic errors.

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