Guest Posts

The Impact of Slang and Informal Language on Online Translation Accuracy

Slang is an integral part of language, and it’s hard to find a native speaker that doesn’t use slang...

Avatar Written by Guest Author · 4 min read >
The Impact of Slang and Informal Language on Online Translation Accuracy 1

Slang is an integral part of language, and it’s hard to find a native speaker that doesn’t use slang terms every single day. In fact, 80% of the American population uses slang even though 50% use slang terms without knowing their meaning, and that can pose a problem.

While slang presents us with a wonderful way to express ourselves, it’s a massive pain for online translators. Even major learning apps find it difficult to correctly translate slang terms.

But online translators shouldn’t ignore slang’s impact on our daily lives. Unless slang is taught in language courses, non-native speakers are going to have a hard time integrating into cultures.

How Slang Impacts Language as a Whole

While using an online translator to better understand languages is a new concept, slang isn’t. Since the invention of language, slang has been used to separate formal and casual speech. You could even say English is an entire slang language based on Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit.

You’re going to find slang in every language, and you’ll hear it whether you’re speaking to children or seniors. The impacts of slang are far-reaching, and it won’t be possible for new speakers to truly understand a language unless they get used to using these terms regularly.

How Slang Impacts Language Translation

If you want to speed up your English language learning (or any other language), you need to get a grasp on slang. Unfortunately, online translators often make mistakes in translating slang.

Abbreviations Are Literal

Slang is found both on and off the internet, and abbreviations of slang are nearly impossible for online translators to get right. One example is “lol,” an abbreviation for “laugh out loud.” If we translated “lol” to French, nothing would change, but the sentence wouldn’t make sense.

Even if we put “laugh out loud” in a translator, it would spit out “rire à voix haute,” but RAVH isn’t the French equivalent of “lol.” The proper translation is “mort de rire,” which is abbreviated to MDR. As you can see, you need cultural context before you can tackle abbreviated slang.

Swear Words Aren’t So Bad

Many linguists argue whether slang words and swear words are the same thing. But in many cases, they can be, especially when culture changes the meaning of an innocuous word.

The word “tabarnak,” which is a phonetic rendition of “tabernacle,” is a French Quebec swear word used to express anger. It’s considered the worst swear word in Quebec French because it’s both an insult to the Catholic Church and it holds the same weight as “f***” in English.

If an online translator wanted to translate the speech of an angry French Canadian, the swear word either wouldn’t be translated or would fall back on “tabernacle.” Both examples would confuse the reader and completely change the meaning, emotion, and power of the sentence.

Context Really Matters

There are an endless number of sentences and words in the English language that would make a person sound insane if they were directly translated without context. If an English speaker says something is “sick,” they mean it’s cool, but that’s the opposite meaning of the actual word.

The French word for “sick” is “malade,” but in French, you would never describe something as “malade,” but you might say “grave sympa.” “Grave sympa” literally means “seriously nice,” and translating that back into English would be easy. But it’s impossible the other way around.

Keep Up With the Times

Online translators are becoming smarter, but by the time everyone starts using slang, it stops being cool. An online translator may pick up the true meaning of a slang term days, months, or even years after it becomes widely used, and that’s a problem for language newbies.

The word “cheugy,” used to describe a generic/conformist Millennial woman back in 2021, still isn’t recognized by editing software as a word. If that’s true, then you can imagine how difficult it would be for a translator to not consider “cheugy” a mistype, let alone a word it can translate.

Being Long-Winded

Taking the word cheugy as an example, let’s consider how impossible it would be to translate this word, even if the language had a similar equivalent because “cheugy” is too specific.

In French, you would describe a person who’s out of touch, uncool, or old by using the word “ringard,” literally meaning “corny.” But that doesn’t touch upon the fact that a person whose cheugy is usually a middle-aged woman in her 30s and 40s that gives off “girl boss” energy.

To properly translate “cheugy,” you would either have to specifically describe what it means, which would take up too much space, or simply leave it as is and add a footnote somewhere.

How to Translate Slang Expressions

It can take a long time to learn a language, and introducing slang doesn’t make it easier. But if you’re interested in translating slang using your knowledge, there are a few ways to do it. 

Literal Translation 

The most obvious and easiest way to translate slang is via a literal translation, and this can work in some situations. Before you use a literal translation, read the sentence and check if anything would be lost if you did this. If the sentence sounds confusing or rude, move on to the next step.


Softening means removing vulgarity from a slang term. The French Canadian swear word we used in a previous section would be inappropriate for children or literature aimed at religious groups. Instead of using a swear word, you’d soften it by replacing it with something else.

Stylish Compensation 

When a literal translation doesn’t work and softening the expression isn’t appropriate, you can replace the original expression with a contextually appropriate substitute. While the substitute won’t be exact, it can still give the readers a vague idea of what the person is trying to say.

Many slang words can’t be translated directly or stylishly because the term is too complicated, which is why you should create a footnote. The footnote explains the slang’s proper meaning.

Please be advised that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the author or his/her sources and do not necessarily reflect those of English Forward. This includes, but is not limited to, third-party content contained on or accessible through the English Forward websites and web pages or sites displayed as search results or contained within a directory of links on the English Forward network.
How to Brand Your YouTube Channel 3

How to Brand Your YouTube Channel

Guest Author in Guest Posts
  ·   2 min read