Why is translating English to Thai difficult and what makes a good translation? You should translate the essence of the copy and not translate word for word – in which a mastery of both languages is a must-have.
Let’s examine the Thai translation of this very popular old English song – Moon River by Audrey Hepburn 🥰
As mentioned on my Thai Translation services page, English to Thai translation is never a word by word translation. If you do so, your translated Thai copies are going to sound plain weird 🙄.
For example, the lyrics “I’m crossing you in style someday” has been translated to
Wait a minute – that’s not what Google Translate says 😲. Google Translate says “I’m crossing you in style someday” should be “ฉันจะข้ามคุณอย่างมีสไตล์สักวันหนึ่ง” 🤓 If you don’t believe me, run by Google Translate yourself and see the results for yourself.
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And then, run by Google Translate again to see what their translated Thai copy becomes in English. Oh no, that sounds all wrong😬. The English copy is now “I’ll skip you in style someday.” 🤣
O-U-C-H. What went wrong? 😩
This is the whole reason why context is so important when it comes to translation. 💯 “You” here is referring to the river and not a person. You can’t just say “cross” in Thai language, you have to say “cross to the other side” when translating English into Thai. “in style” is difficult to translate into Thai and so in this video, the translator uses the term “gradually” which is the closest possible match that makes sense. ✅
And of course, there is always a “Thai way” to phrase things. 😎 Instead of saying “I’m crossing”, the Thai way to say it is “I will cross”. Referring to another translated line in this song:
“Wherever you’re going” / “ไม่ว่าเธอจะไปไหน”
Instead of saying “you’re going”, the Thai way to say it is “you will go”. So the translated Thai sentence is “no matter where you will go” ✅ The intention of crossing / going is communicated across via the word “will” / “จะ” – and in this context, the intention is more significant than the action of crossing/going. In fact, “จะ” is a very common word in Thai language and it will be seen in a lot of Thai conversations/songs even if the word “will” does not appear in the English versions (original or translated).
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About the author – see the About page for more informationJoanne Tan is an aspiring polyglot and has so far mastered English, Chinese and Thai languages. She first started learning Thai in 2015 before staying in Bangkok for 5 months, and then continued studying Thai up to Advanced Levels at the National University of Singapore. In 2017, Joanne was awarded ‘Advanced Thai Proficiency’ by the Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute of Chulalongkorn University. Today, Joanne continues to teach her friends basic Thai speaking and helps her Thai friends actively promote Thai culture.