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What Exactly Is a Translation Error?



Producing content for your business is a thoughtful and careful process, and when you've got it just right, you may consider translating it into one or more foreign languages. As businesses expand their global reach, translation services become an essential part of communication. Making the decision to translate your content can change your business dramatically and serve a broader audience. However, you want to be sure that your translations match the quality of the original content you created. Translation is much more an artistic task than a scientific one. The translated writing needs to accurately represent what the source language says. Additionally, it needs to flow naturally and read as if it had been written originally in the target language.


Translation is a complex process that involves much more than simply converting words from one language to another. It requires understanding the context, cultural nuances, and idiomatic expressions of the source language and accurately conveying those in the target language. A translation error can be defined as any mistake that occurs during the translation process. This can include incorrect grammar, stylistic preference, literal translation, translation tone, incorrect syntax, misspellings, typos, mistranslations, and more. Translation errors can arise due to a variety of reasons, such as lack of context, cultural differences, and the translator's level of expertise. Unfortunately, translation errors are common and can lead to confusion, misunderstandings, or even offending audiences.


There are different types of translation errors, including mistranslations, literal translations, omissions, and cultural errors. To avoid these errors, businesses need to understand the cultural nuances and idiomatic expressions of the source language and accurately convey them in the target language. It is crucial to adapt translations to the intended market, proofread them multiple times, follow a style guide, and review reference materials to avoid objective errors. By doing so, businesses can produce high-quality translations that reflect the professionalism and quality of their brand.


Types of Translation Errors


1) Mistranslation: One of the most common types of translation errors. Mistranslation is where a word or phrase is translated incorrectly, leading to confusion or misunderstanding. For example, in a restaurant´s ad copy that refers to “signature dishes” translating the Spanish word "signature" to "firma" (as in platos “firma) would a mistranslation. Given the context, a more accurate translation would be “estrella” or “emblemático” such as a plato “estrella” or plato “emblemático”. Mistranslations can result from lack of context, lack of knowledge of the source language, cultural differences, or a rush to complete the translation.


2) Literal Translations: When words are translated word-for-word rather than conveying the intended meaning. While it may seem like the easiest way to translate, it often does not take into account the nuances of a language. This approach usually makes the translation read stiff and unnatural as it had been written by a robot instead of a human, but it can also lead to confusion or even make the translation sound nonsensical. This can occur when a translator is not familiar with the context or idiomatic expressions of the source language. For example, the Spanish phrase "dar en el clavo" means "to hit the nail on the head," but a literal translation would be "to give on the nail." Instead, it is important to focus on the meaning behind the words and convey that meaning accurately in the target language.


3) Omission: When a translator leaves out an important word or phrase, altering the intended meaning. This can happen if the translator is not paying attention or if there are gaps in their knowledge of the source language. For example, in a medical document, the phrase " pre-existing condition" needs to be a translation unit. Omitting the adjective (pre-existing) when translating would completely change the meaning of the phrase.


Cultural Error: When a translator misunderstands or misinterprets the cultural context of the source language. This can occur when the translator is not familiar with the cultural norms or traditions of the source language or if there are significant differences between the source and target cultures. For example, Miller Coors made many Puerto Ricans mad in 2011 when it launched the Emborícuate” campaign in time for the New York Puerto Rican Day Festival. By inventing the word emborícuate, a play on words of the expression ‘to get drunk’, offended Puerto Ricans as it implied that it was more important in their culture to get drunk than to celebrate this important day

(Insert link where appropriate) https://www.latinorebels.com/2011/06/02/millercoors-puerto-rico-issues-statement-about-emboricuate-puerto-rican-day-parade-ad-campaign/


Materials Not Reviewed: Translators rarely work without the support of reference materials. It can be painfully obvious when a translator does not review the reference materials, as their translations will not sound as professional and will not be as consistent with your previously translated materials.


4) Style Guide Not Followed: Your materials were carefully designed in the original to cater to your target audience, and your translations need to target foreign language speakers of the same audience. In addition to reading level, style choices like deciding between formal vs. informal tone, whether to translate proper names or not, and how to handle measurements are equally important.


5) Spelling, Grammar & Syntax Errors: The presence of spelling, grammar, and syntax errors in your translation will make your content seem unprofessional and sloppy, which is not the image you want associated with your business.


6) Subjective Errors: These are more difficult to address, such as choosing between synonyms. English, for example, has both "car" and "automobile," which mean the same thing, but choosing the "right" one may depend on personal style, tone of the text, intended reading level, or where you come from.


***A particular word choice might not be a translation error. It may be a matter of a stylistic preference. For instance, “vehicle” can be translated to Spanish as “vehículo”, “carro”, “auto”, “coche” and all choices would be acceptable or correct if we are talking about “the machine with wheel and an engine used as a means of transportation.” However, it would be incorrect to translate “vehicle” to “auto” or “carro” in the sense of “a way of achieving something” such as when using it as a common metaphor in English in the following sentence: “The conference was seen as an ideal ‘vehicle’ for increased cooperation between the member states.” The correct translation here would be “instrumento” or “vehículo”.


How to Avoid Translation Errors


To avoid translation errors, businesses need to understand the cultural nuances and idiomatic expressions of the source language and accurately convey them in the target language.


One way to avoid translation errors is to always receive feedback from a competent native speaker or professional translator. Competent native speakers can provide valuable insights into the nuances of a language. Professional translators, on the other hand, can offer their expertise in translating documents across various industries and can ensure the translation accurately conveys the intended meaning and adheres to industry-specific standards.


Here are some tips to help businesses produce high-quality translations:


  1. Adapt translations to the intended market: All languages are associated with one or more cultures, and there are key differences in their written forms that will make it easy for a native speaker to identify which dialect is being used. Adapting your translations to the intended market will help the readers relate to your content and may be important so as not to alienate them.

  2. Proofread multiple times: Mistranslations can be avoided by having a second or even third linguist proofread the translations. This ensures that the translation accurately conveys the intended message.

  3. Follow a style guide: Your materials were carefully designed in English to cater to your target audience, and your translations need to target foreign language speakers of the same audience. In addition to reading level, style choices like deciding between formal vs. informal tone, whether to translate proper names or not, and how to handle measurements are equally important.

  4. Review reference materials: Translators rarely work without the support of reference materials. It can be painfully obvious when a translator does not review the reference materials, as their translations will not sound as professional and will not be as consistent with your previously translated materials.

  5. Avoid objective errors: Spelling, grammar, and syntax errors fall under the "objective errors" category. The presence of spelling, grammar, and syntax errors in your translation will make your content seem unprofessional and sloppy, which is not the image you want associated with your business.

So How Can You Ensure the Quality of Your Translation?


Unlike the outcome by other professional work, a translation can unfortunately be critiqued by

any individual that is bilingual or feels that has enough linguistic competence for having taken Spanish or any other foreign language in high school, for “speaking” that foreign language at home or for spending summer in a country where that language is spoken. Thus, your translation can be critiqued by far more people than you want. Even receiving translation feedback from a native speaker or someone who has a very strong linguistic competency in the target language is often not enough, as they make speak the language fluently but do not have the specific industry understanding necessary for the professional level of your writing. For example, a majority of English speakers can talk about trucks and shipping in general terms, but they can’t define what a Freight Brokerage, spot market, or dead-heading are. Your translator and editors should have professional experience working with both the original and target languages as well as industry specific knowledge.

Evaluating the quality of translation involves many aspects, but above all you need to make

sure that the translator had a clear understanding of the meaning or sense of the source text.

If a translator misunderstands the meaning of a sentence, or even a single word, the

resulting translation can have serious repercussions specially in legal or financial

documents or in medical histories, consent forms or medical diagnosis where human

life may be at risk.


How to Best Avoid Translation Errors?


In conclusion, translation errors can have serious consequences and it is important to take steps to avoid them. This includes working with professional translators and competent native speakers, paying attention to stylistic preferences, avoiding literal translation, having a strong foundation in grammar and syntax, carefully proofreading the translation, and working with experienced translators who understand the nuances of the industry-specific terminology. By taking these steps, you can ensure that your translations are as accurate as possible and effectively communicate your intended message.


Learn more about how Language Concepts’ translation services can benefit you by visiting us online.


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