What could be a Non-Translatable

In the translation industry, translators/interpreters always try to find the words that are best fit for the desired translations. How is this achieved? Well, it takes more than one step to decide which word would fit best. One of those steps is the word from the source language, of course, but there’s also the context of what’s being said, whether it is Present or Past tense, whether the gender of the word would change from the source language to the target language, etc.

All of these steps are taking place simultaneously in the translator/interpreter’s mind while he’s translating or interpreting. All these processes together, ensure that the translation or interpretation is the best quality possible and that the message is as clear as it can be. But, there are instances where the first step, the source word, has no translation into the target language.

The best course of action in this case, would be to simply explain what the word means, since there’s no literal translation for it. One of these words is the Spanish sobremesa. What is sobremesa? Sobremesa, literally “over the table”, has no precise English translation, perhaps because there is no cultural equivalent.

Sobremesa is the leisurely time after we have finished eating, but before we get up from the table. Time spent in conversation, digesting, relaxing, enjoying; or, as you may say, a way of spending quality time with family, friends or merely business partners. Certainly not rushing. Not reserved for weekends -though it can be longest on Sundays-, even weekdays and business meals have a sobremesa. For Spaniards and their descendants, how we eat is as important as what we eat.

Next time you find yourself in a restaurant and you see a table of people whose plates are empty and they are laughing and talking, you can turn to your friends and tell mention to them how the table next door is enjoying a sobremesa, and of course, you’ll have to take a few seconds to explain to them what it is, since there’ll be no specific word to describe it.

I advise to have a look on how to choose the right word at Choosing the Right Words.