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There are roughly around 6,500 languages spoken in the world today. In the English language, alone, there are over a million words. Most languages don’t have quite that many, but each language is going to have a lot of different words. It’s not like most of us are going to use a million words. We probably don’t know half of them. You would think that with that many, we would have a word for everything. But that’s not true. Not even close.

Words are more than just definitions or descriptions. They reflect so much more about our experiences and life. Words are meant to describe our values, ideas, life experiences, relationships, attitudes, and world views. The problem comes in when you consider how your views, ideas, and values are formed. There are so many aspects that go into creating how you think: geography, history, religion, culture, climate, and economic status are just some factors that can lead to the way you view the world. Some people even believe that translation is not even possible between languages, because languages are so tightly linked to their culture. Even if two words generally refer to the same thing, there is going to be a gray area where social connotations are going to be different.

With so many different cultures and languages, there are going to be a lot of words that don’t translate between languages. Sure, words can be defined, but there are a lot of words that can be directly translated. You might be able to understand what is trying to be conveyed, but there is no adequate equivalent. Words that are untranslatable normally are tied to an experience that is unique to a specific culture or society.

An example of an untranslatable word is komorebi, a Japanese word that refers to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. But even that definition is not a perfect translation; there is no perfect translation into English. This shows the difference in cultures. Japan’s fascination with nature has given rise to a lot of poetic words like komorebi, while most Americans have never stopped to think about the difference in sunlight through the trees. Another example of an untranslatable word is the English word snow. To those who speak English, snow can refer to the snow falling from the sky, to the snow on the ground, to packed snow, or even slushy snow. But, in the Inuit language of the indigenous people of arctic North America, there are over 40 terms to describe snow, including: aqilokoq for softly falling snow and piegnartoq for snow that is good for a driving sled. This is another example of how your culture can determine your language. Those who live in Siberia, where there is a lot of snow, need more terms than just the general word snow. For those who don’t live there or have those types of conditions, 40 words for snow is unnecessary.

This type of gap between languages is where having a translator can help you. Translators who have a better understanding of the languages and cultures will be better suited to translate words that don’t have direct translations, better than machines can. This is why, if you have an important document to translate, it would be a good idea to look into translation services.