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Common Translation Mistakes and How to Minimize Them?

Common Translation Mistakes and How to Minimize Them?

Every type of translation is a highly complex and technical task that demands an excellent command of the written language in both the source and target languages. Because translation requires deep language knowledge, intellectual expertise, skills, and extensive experience in the chosen field. Professional translation goes far beyond simply converting words from the source language to the target language. However, even the most experienced translators can face challenges in sentence structures, terminology, context, and cultural meanings, leading to common translation mistakes. As a result of globalization, information is being shared worldwide more than ever before, increasing the demand for quality language translation services.

To learn more about the most common translation mistakes and how to avoid them, continue reading our article.

Most Common Translation Mistakes

Translating is a creative and complex process that goes beyond simply replacing a word in the source language with an equivalent word in the target language. It requires expertise and experience in areas such as grammar, sentence structures, regional accents, and cultural nuances. Additionally, the translator needs to have a deep understanding to ensure that a concept is not misstated or lost in translation.

To make error-free translations, it is essential to be aware of common mistakes. We have compiled 11 common translation mistakes and what to pay attention to avoid them.

1. Grammar and Syntax Errors

Among common translation mistakes, the first mistake is grammar and syntax errors. Different languages have their own unique grammar and syntax rules. Grammar errors include incorrect verb inflections that misrepresent the tense, mood, passive voice, person, or number of the verb, as well as lack of agreement between subject and verb. Moreover, errors can occur in possessive adjectives such as “my, your, his, her, our, their,” etc. In English, these adjectives agree with the possessor’s gender, whereas in French, they are determined by the gender of the possessed object.

To avoid these common translation mistakes, translators should consider these differences and pay close attention to spelling, subject-verb agreement, and sentence structures.

2. Jargon

Jargon is the term used for specialized terminology, expressions, or abbreviations used by a particular profession, industry, or specific community. It is often employed to facilitate communication and understanding among professionals working in a specific field. However, the use of jargon during the translation process can lead to translation errors.

Even if you are working with the most professional translation service provider, you cannot expect translators to understand corporate jargon, insider terminology, or industry-specific acronyms. Overuse of such jargon can lead to translation mistakes and loss of meaning.

Therefore, when translating texts that require expertise in a specific area, thorough research and seeking assistance from specialists are essential. Minimizing the use of jargon and opting for more general terms can also help reduce translation errors.

3. Word for Word Translations

When translating a text, the meaning of the text should not be altered because translating a text into another language is a process that should preserve its meaning. Translating word-for-word can distort the meaning of the text, making it one of the most common translation errors.

Each language has its own unique rules, sentence structure, and syntax. Subject-verb agreement rules differ, and inanimate objects may be assigned gender. Trying to translate such structures word-for-word can lead to the loss of the original meaning of the text.

4. Inconsistent Translation

Inexperienced translators, especially, may have difficulty maintaining a consistent tone throughout the translation text. They might not use the same terms, expressions, sentence structures, or idioms consistently. Misusing the tone, slang, or idioms can lead to translation errors. To avoid these common translation mistakes, being more careful can be helpful.

5. Mistranslations

The errors in translation often stem from the translator’s inadequate language proficiency, difficulty in understanding cultural differences, lack of sufficient research, working hastily, or being careless. Translation mistakes can distort the meaning, make the tone inconsistent, and fail to convey the correct grammar.

Translation errors come in various types, such as misinterpreting a word, grammatical mistakes, shifts in meaning, cultural incompatibilities, and miscomprehension. These errors may arise due to the translator’s negligence or lack of knowledge. To avoid these common translation mistakes, checking the translation can be helpful.

6. Cultural Differences

Each language has a unique structure based on people’s way of thinking, lifestyle, shared history, and geographical conditions. Cultural differences can lead to words and expressions having different meanings. It is not possible to interpret and translate language independently of its context. Neglecting these different meanings and usages during translation, misinterpreting, or overlooking cultural details can lead to translation errors.

To avoid these common translation mistakes, it is essential to thoroughly research and understand the cultural differences of the target countries and conduct the translation process accordingly.

7. Slang, Idioms, and Expressions

One of the most challenging aspects for translators during the translation process is dealing with slang expressions and idioms. Idioms and slang expressions do not carry the same meaning in other languages, so they need to be interpreted from a completely different perspective and rephrased accordingly. To avoid these common translation mistakes, researching the meanings of slang, idioms and expressions in the language that is translated may be helpful.

8. Tone and Style

A text’s how it is read is as important as what is read in the text. If the tone of the text is wrong, the entire text can be misinterpreted. Just imagine how challenging it can be to translate a poem. Understanding and capturing the right tone and rhythm is a complex and detailed process to recreate the emotions the poem evokes in the source language in the target language.

9. Gender-Specific Words

Every language has a different set of predefined rules when it comes to gender assignment. Some languages are gender-neutral, while others classify nouns as masculine or feminine. Gender assignments can be seen in elements such as nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and some verb forms.

10. Missing Context

Lack of context or making translations disconnected from the context is another common translation error. Some translators or especially machine translation tools may see word-for-word translation as the correct approach, but this often leads to mistakes.

The meaning of a word, expression, and therefore the sentence can vary depending on the situation or word arrangement. Translators need to understand the different meanings of the words and accurately reflect the intended meaning in the target language by fully understanding the context.

11. Not Using the Right Words

If the translator is inexperienced, making mistakes like using the wrong word in translation is more likely. Perhaps one of the most important and challenging aspects of translation is fitting words into the appropriate context. During the translation process, we often come across words, expressions, or proverbs that do not have a direct equivalent in the target language. Instead of forcing these expressions to fit into the target language, it might be wiser to leave them in their original form.

Examples of Common Translation Mistakes

As we have detailed above, mistakes can easily be made during the translation process. Whether it’s due to the wrong word choice, misunderstanding the context, or cultural differences, these obstacles can hinder a smooth translation process. Below, we highlight some of the potential errors that may occur when translating into French and Spanish.

* Common Translation Mistakes in Spanish

  • The word “día” (day) is masculine, even though it ends with the letter “a,” so it requires the use of masculine adjectives and articles – el día (not la día) – buenos días (not buenas días).
  • “Estar” is always used to denote location, but when it comes to events, “ser” is used to tell where an event is taking place.
  • “Aquí” and “acá” both refer to a location close to the speaker, but “acá” is used with verbs of motion, while “aquí” is used in other instances.
  • Many Spanish words may look similar to English words, but don’t be fooled. For example, “asistir” doesn’t mean “to assist,” it means “to attend.”
  • In the United States, it is common for someone living there to refer to themselves as “American,” but in Spanish, the word “Americano” includes anyone from North, South, and Central America.
  • Don’t confuse the word “time.” “Vez” is used for “occasion.” “Hora” is used to indicate clock time. “Tiempo” is used in most other instances.

* Common Translation Mistakes in French

  • Approximately 60% of the English vocabulary comes from French and Latin origins. Cognates are words that are conceptually synonymous, resembling each other, producing the same sound, and having the same meaning. French has plenty of these words. Despite their similarities to English words, their meanings can be quite different.
  • Every noun in French is either masculine or feminine. To avoid French grammar mistakes, you need to learn their genders.
  • French adjective placement rules differ. In most cases, adjectives come after the noun they describe. For instance, “une assiette cassée” (a broken plate), “un vélo vert” (a green bike), “des amis extraordinaires” (extraordinary friends). However, some adjectives like beau, premier, bon, and grand come before the noun.
  • In English, possessive pronouns agree with the gender of the possessor. In French, possessive pronouns are determined by the gender of the possessed object.
  • French has a common class of verbs called pronominal verbs that don’t exist in English. These verbs use a possessive pronoun (“me,” “te,” “se,” etc.) followed by a regularly conjugated verb.

How to Avoid Translation Mistakes?

To avoid common translation mistakes, it is essential to start by working with an experienced and skilled translator. Collaborating with an experienced translator for your translation project and forming a team that includes linguists, proofreaders, and subject matter experts will reduce translation errors.

Additionally, emphasis should be placed on proofreading and editing during the translation process. Proofreading is crucial to identify errors in spelling, grammar, dialect, and syntax.

Lastly, avoid relying too much on machine translations. As interpreting a text can be cultural, contextual, and subjective, machine translation can be challenging. Instead, consider using machine translation post-editing. Human touch is necessary for language translation, and having experienced human translators review and correct machine translations will enhance the translation quality. This approach minimizes errors and ensures a more reliable and high-quality translation.

Bekir Diri
Bekir Diri

Bekir Diri, founder of Atlas Localization, studied at Trakya University, Department of Translation and Interpretation. He gained industry experience with his MA in Translation Studies in Istanbul 29 Mayis University, with his thesis titled “Turkish Issues in Game, Mobile Application and Web Localization”, while also improving himself in the field. He also lectures about Translation Technologies, Project Management and Localization in Istanbul 29 Mayis University.

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