5 Translation Mistakes Beginner Translators Make

A good translation is hard to find. Whether you’re working with speeches, documents, textbooks, or business portfolios, there are challenges that you’ll face with any cross-cultural communication.

This is why it’s essential to hire a professional translator if you need to convert a text from one language to another. Not only will you avoid cultural faux pas, but you’ll also reap the benefits of precise, detail-oriented documents.

At the Spanish Group, we understand the value of a quality translation, and our certified English-Spanish translators ensure that.

How can translation mistakes cost you?

Translation mistakes can have devastating consequences. Even in the best-case scenario, you’re looking at the wasted time and human resources to fix them; in the worst-case scenario, you might have to recall products, issue apologies, fend off lawsuits or go into damage control mode for your brand or reputation.

What are the most common translation errors? What should you be looking out for when hiring someone to re-interpret your texts? Here are just a few rookie mistakes to beware of.

1. Translating Verbatim

Word-for-word translations sound nice in theory, but in practice, they can lead to many issues:

– Strange or awkward phrasing

– Idioms that don’t convey the same meaning in another language

– Losses in tone, humor, and dialect

– Very dry and technical language

In Spanish, for example, the phrase poner los cuernos means “to put on horns” and refers to someone unfaithful. If you convert that into English with a literal translation and no explanation, your audience won’t understand why their relationship guide has suddenly turned into a zookeeping brochure.

2. Exaggerations and Inaccuracies

The flip side of an overly literal translation is one that uses too much creative license. You can lose the original meaning of a document if it’s translated so liberally that it’s full of idioms, errors, and exaggerations.

Exaggerations are a particular concern in business translations because you need full transparency when it comes to money matters. A Japanese manufacturer named the Sharp Corporation learned this lesson the hard way. When issuing a press release about recent profit losses, the English version emphasized their feelings of “doubt” so strongly that their stocks tumbled by 10 percent.

In the original Japanese, the word “doubt” wasn’t used at all. They were reassuring their investors that they were confident about their company’s future moving forward.


3. Inability to Interpret Meaning/Intent

Every translation has a purpose. Depending on the document, it might be meant to educate, inform, entertain, or instruct.

You can lose this intent through a bad translation. You can also muddy it with unclear translations that force the reader to guess and assume what it’s trying to say. This phenomenon is sometimes called “language ambiguity.”

Here are some ambiguous statements in English. Try to imagine translating them into another language, and you’ll understand why clarity is so important:

– “Mary had a little lamb.” Did she own it, or did she eat it?

– “Visiting relatives can be boring.” Is it annoying to visit the relatives yourself, or is it boring to receive relatives in your own home?

4. No Attention to Style or Tone

This is a common mistake by first-time translators that are very particular about their word choice. They’re so concerned with creating a literal, accurate translation that they forget to bring over a human feeling to their text.

This can be a particular problem with languages that have built-in formality levels. In Korean, for example, different suffixes can take the exact same word from “stuffy and ceremonial” to “casual and relaxed.” Since English doesn’t work like that, you’ll need to compensate for the tone change when translating Korean-to-English texts. A verbatim translation isn’t going to work.

5. Using the Wrong Words

Last but not least, some translators don’t translate things correctly. They might misspell or misinterpret a word; they might use a similar-sounding word that has a drastically different meaning. There are all kinds of mistakes to be made with synonyms, homonyms, homophones, metaphors, and onomatopoeia.

A bad translation is a simple problem that can have complicated side effects. You’ll want to avoid it at all costs.

Why should you trust professional translation services?

Translating a document is much trickier than it appears. If it was as simple as copying words between dictionaries, everyone would be able to do it.

Invest in a professional who holds a membership in the American Translation Association. Choose someone with skill, experience, and intelligence, and choose someone with enough language literacy to understand all of the details and nuances that make up a good translation.

You can find a certified English-Spanish translator at The Spanish Group. Contact us for a free quote today!


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