Ten things to try when you’re completely and utterly stuck

Assuming you’ve tried all the usual things – reading around, umpteen Wikipedia searches, as many dictionaries and thesauruses (online or offline) as you can find – you’ll no doubt begin to worry that you might be getting stuck. However, fear not (yet), because depending on the particular type of ‘stuck’ you’re about to do battle with, there might be a few more things worth trying. Here’s ten of them (feel free to add some more in the comments below):

1. Google – Read – Repeat

Where would we be without Google? …well, we’d probably be using some other search engine – that’s where! But let’s face it, translating would be a lot more difficult without the ability to google. So, if you’ve got the time then google the word, phrase or concept that you’re stuck on, read a few webpages and if you still can’t work it out, google it (or a variation of it) again.

2. Have a Break, Have a Coffee

Taking a break can sometimes be just what the translation doctor ordered. And what better way to ensure you actually get up out of your seat and look away from the computer than to make a cup of coffee – sometimes a quick caffeine kick is all you need to work out what something means or word something in a way that sounds as it should.

3. Sleep on it

Not really a great idea unless it’s already late in the evening (isn’t it a coincidence that this is often the time when people get stuck?), but if you’re feeling tired then maybe it’s time to pack up for the day and get some sleep. You never know, you might just wake up with the answer!

4. Ask a friend (preferably another professional translator or a native speaker of the source language)

Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if there was always one of these on hand when you needed it?! …and if you’re working in an office then perhaps there is. Otherwise…

5. Post on a list

…post on a list – or ask a network, like Proz. Assuming your client isn’t going to get upset if part of his or her source document is posted in a public (or private) forum then this might just get you unstuck. It’s also a great way to get a variety of different answers relatively quickly. People are almost always happy to help. But remember to make it a two-way thing: by all means receive help when you need it, but don’t forget to help others in return.

6. Outsource it to a more proficient/experienced translator

This one’s a bit extreme…and there’s no guarantee that whoever you outsource it to isn’t going to get stuck as well. However, if you’ve hit a section of a document that really isn’t your specialty, and if you happen to know someone who claims to excel in such matters, then there’s no harm in giving them a call and paying them to help you out of your current fix.

7. Google Translate

Ahahahaha…yes yes. We know. Google Translate!?! But sometimes, just sometimes good ol’ Google T can actually yield surprisingly reasonable results – so long as you triple check everything it says and remember that the more words you put in, the more of a mess if gives out.

8. Contact the client

Sometimes the client will have an answer and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes the client will be happy to help and sometimes they won’t. However, this is usually about the best way to keep your professional integrity. The worst thing you can do is submit work that you’re not confident in. And hey, just maybe the problem is that the source language doesn’t make sense in the first place, or maybe it’s a typo – if it is then the client will almost surely be pleased you spotted it, right?

9. Pull your hair out!

Just kidding: You should never pull hair – be it your own or otherwise.

10. Fudge it

Have you tried absolutely everything? Is there really nothing else you can think of? Well…you still probably shouldn’t fudge it. Give it some more thought.

Have we missed anything? What do you do when you’re stuck? Anything to add to the list?

5 responses

  1. Charles odwara Avatar
    Charles odwara

    You guys are amazing with great point of views!

    1. Food for Translators Avatar
      Food for Translators


  2. network before you get stuck (means all the time), so you can use tips 4 and 6

  3. I love fudge – especially fudge from Devon!

    1. Food for Translators Avatar
      Food for Translators

      …doesn’t everyone?! lol