Why a Perfect Translation is Never “Perfect”

welocalize March 9, 2019

A perfect translation is never perfect because “perfection” is in the eye of the beholder. It’s subjective. Welocalize Life Sciences asked employees and linguists if they think the perfect translation exists. Here is what some of them told us:

All clients have their own expectations and styles they want reflected in the translations they receive and in working with my linguistic teams, it’s all about finding that perfect balance between ensuring quality, accuracy and personality in translation work. –  Katrina Honer, Senior Project Manager at Welocalize Life Sciences


Asking someone to make a perfect translation is a lot like asking someone to make a perfect house. What does that even mean? Does it mean if it has a roof and four walls it’s a perfect house? Translation is objective from the perspective that some things can be described as simply “right” or “wrong” but that’s not the end of it. The subjective nature of translation is just as important. Finding the right agency or translator(s) for a client that can work well with the client and mesh with that client’s own subjectivity is what makes a translation perfect, in my opinion. – Jenae Spry, MA, a specialist in medical, pharma and biotech translations.


Everyone has their own opinion on the best way to translate something and there are several ways to translate the same thing. Language is 60% rules and grammar and the rest is all art – the style, the connotation, the flair a linguist wants to put into their work. – Benjamin Portoleau, Production Manager at Welocalize Life Sciences


No one translation can really be perfect because another version could be different yet perfectly correct. In my editing work, all I would say was: “This translation is as close to perfection as could be” because the translator was obviously in tune with the language, culture, history, way of life, and perhaps a sense of humor of the countries of both the source and the target. – Linguist, Anonymous

Smoother Sailing

There is always an element of subjectivity where translation quality is concerned. But you can take measures to limit subjectivity. Here are just a few:

  • Start at the source. Tightening up source content reduces the risk of translation quality issues.
  • Incorporate glossaries and style guides. Company style guides and glossaries are important tools that help guide linguists. Style guides and glossaries help to educate linguists about the client and product while reducing subjectivity.
  • Train in-country reviewers. Train your in-country approvers on what they should look for when reviewing content. According to the report “Is Traditional Linguistic Validation Still the Way to Go?” by market research firm Common Sense Advisory, the linguistic review process should not be:
    • A stylistic review. There are many ways of expressing the same concept differently. Pure stylistic edits create significant implementation challenges and trigger additional costs and sometimes delays.
    • A rewrite of the source text. You do not allow your LSP to take the liberty to change the intended meaning. Neither should your in-country team.

In-country Linguists with Subject Matter Expertise

Working with a professional language service provider is important. Welocalize Life Sciences’ medical linguists have local market knowledge and subject matter expertise, ensuring translations are accurate and culturally appropriate. Contact us for more information on our quality language services for highly regulated industries.