free spaces sign

What does free mean?

Today, I want to discuss my favourite topic, context and why it’s important for translation.

On my trip to work this morning, I passed our local crèche which was displaying the message: “Free Spaces Available”.

Hm. What does that actually mean?

If you have kids and have ever put them into a crèche, you’ll know this can mean a couple of things, that they have:

  1. spaces available for kids now (free ones!)
  2. spaces for kids available now and are for free
  3. some crèches want you to pay for a space on their entry list, so these are free
  4. some spaces available now, that are for free

Yes, put your kid here for free! This probably isn’t the case, but you can see how the text can be misinterpreted. For me, I think, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that this sign would have been much more accurate if it simply said, “spaces available”. If it read free just confuses people.

Reviewing messages and adverts like this shows how complex it would be to have it translated. When translating, we often come across sentences like this which can have ambiguous meanings. Professional translators are trained to look out for them and question the meaning with the customer.

Context matters in every language; read about why context matters in translation.