Translation is a process that requires special skills, knowledge, and professional training in order to give a high-quality end product to the customer. Since it is done by humans, excluding machine translation, it is normal to err.  

When translating documents, especially longer or more complicated ones, it is possible to make a mistake. It might be due to the complexity of the topic, tight deadlines, lack of experience of either the client (who has not provided all the necessary information) or the translator (who has not done sufficient research, for example).  

Below you can find an example of the most common mistakes that translators make and a few ideas how to get things right.  

Factors to Consider

The time and effort involved in the translation depends on several elements that include: the source and target language, type of document, length of text, complexity of the subject matter, deadline, and the experience of the translator.  

Translating a text from one language into another when both languages belong to the same family group is much easier than translating from two very different languages, say from Chinese into English. Still, when the two languages are so similar, the translator may be tempted to use the same word order or punctuation followed by the source language into the translated text, which is a huge mistake. 

Generally, we can divide the mistakes into two main groups: technical and personal or subjective errors. Here is an example of the most common types: 

Common Technical Mistakes  

These mistakes are due to the fact that the translator sticks to the format of the original text and makes some (in)voluntary punctuational, structural, or grammatical errors. The most common ones include: 

  • Keeping the same word order of the source language 
  • Using the same punctuation as in the original text 
  • Keeping the same sentence length
  • Using the same idioms as in the source language
  • Not changing the verb tense
  • Keeping the same format of dates, names, currencies

Common Personal Mistakes 

Sometimes, translators make mistakes because of personal reasons that most frequently include: 

  • Fatigue because of working too many hours in a row 
  • Overconfidence due to the fact that they have translated similar texts a lot before and avoid paying too much attention to this particular one 
  • Not paying attention to the new terminology adopted as of recently 
  • Approaching the text with lack of enthusiasm because it looks too boring, too long, or they feel they are being under paid
  • Relying on previous experience with the language – this is common for new translators, who have just started work. They can feel confident due to the fact that they have previously worked with the language as teachers, for example, but are not familiar with the best practices or tips of translation

These errors can easily be avoided if you are aware of them. A wonderful trait to have as a translator is curiosity. Learning new things and always developing new and old skills is very important.  

How to Get it Right? 

If you are aware that mistakes exist, then you can surely learn how to avoid them and get things right. The main purpose of the translation is to convey a clear message to the intended audience in their own language. In order to do that, professional translators rely on their language knowledge and skills in order to: 

  • Change the word order in accordance with the target language requirements 
  • Reorganize phrases so that they sound right 
  • Use the correct punctuation 
  • Split the sentences into two or three if necessary 
  • Rewrite phrases or sentences so that they sound right in the target language and convey the same message with the same feeling or intensity
  • Format the numbers correctly – dates, street names and numbers, currencies are written in a different way in different languages and it is very important to render them correctly in the target language
  • Transcribe or transliterate names – make sure to check with the client which option they have chosen in the past and stick to it
  • Write names properly – in some languages, like Chinese for example, the family name is written before the first name. When you translate a text into English, make sure to reverse the order to avoid confusion

These are just a few guidelines that a good translator needs to follow in order to avoid making mistakes while translating. Having sufficient time to read the text in advance and then to proofread the translated version is also very importance. Resting and spending a few hours away from the text can also aid in a good translation. 

In general, as a translator you need to keep learning and developing your language every day. Staying tuned in to new developments in the field and the possibilities that new technologies can offer. 

Bonus tip: Don’t simply translate! Communicate.

Every written text is created with the purpose to communicate a certain message. Therefore, the client would like to communicate the same idea in the foreign language and that is the job of the good translator. Even though translation, unlike interpreting, is more focused on finding the exact word match, its main purpose is still to convey the exact message.  

After all, making mistakes is human and translators are not an exception. That is why, there is a specific translation process, including quality control, that each established translation agency follows in order to eliminate errors to a minimum and maintain consistent high standard of translations.  

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