4 Common Errors In Translation

Est. Reading Time: 4min
Category: Translate
Last Updated: January 7, 2021
By: Rana Hamodah

Have you heard of the $71 million translation mistake? In 1980, a patient named Willie Ramirez was admitted in Florida, in a comatose state. His family and friends were trying to explain his condition, but could only speak Spanish. A staff member who also spoke Spanish mistranslated the word “intoxicado” and said Ramirez was “intoxicated”. In Spanish, “intoxicado” actually had a closer meaning to getting poisoned. Without proper consultation, he got treated as if he overdosed on drugs, when he actually had an intracerebral hemorrhage. Ramirez was left a quadriplegic because of this and received a $71 million malpractice settlement.

There have been countless translation errors throughout history, some made by some of the biggest companies in the world, such as KFC, HSBC and Ford. This teaches you that a word or simple phrase, when translated incorrectly, can lead to millions in losses. This is why hiring professionals to get a translation done may make the difference between a successful or failed marketing campaign or business transaction.

In this article, we listed down the 4 most common errors you can make in translation:

#1 Verbatim Translation

Translation requires you to take the source material and translate it to the target material. When doing verbatim or word-to-word translation, you almost always forget the context and just translate each word in each sentence in chronological order.

Each translation job or task is unique because languages are all unique, with different expressions, grammar and syntax. Differences in the word placement and sentence structures can make the difference between a document that makes sense or a document that is completely unreadable and lacks any meaning.

#2 Inconsistency

Inconsistency in translation consists of several errors that can alter the meaning and overall understanding of the target material.

One of these errors is the exaggeration of word meanings, where a translator may make some words to be more intense or more passionate in the target language, instead of just keeping it as simple and straightforward as possible. Some words, phrases or sentences may be given too much focus, instead of following the overall flow of the source material.

Another error is not following the style or tone of the source material. It is a given that all source material has a certain tone, style or feel to them that can be lost. A video blog or a Vlog, when translated, can lead to a more casual tone to the target material and is more informal. A legal document is the opposite – it takes a very formal tone and the style of the document must be strictly followed to avoid any crucial errors.

Incorrect use of jargon and slang is also another error. Slang may be discouraged in more formal documents, while it may help readers understand more informal and casual documents.

#3 Translator Ability

Most translations are largely dependent on professional and experienced translators that can produce high-quality translations. If the translator lacks real proficiency, you cannot really expect perfect translations. This is because the art of translation requires experience in the language, to a native level where you understand the language, its ins and outs, such as grammar, syntax and even idiomatic expressions.

Proficient translators must also have delved into the culture of the languages, thus creating a more native understanding of the language, rather than just learning the language. An inexperienced translator will also give little value to new trends and words of the languages.

#4 Syntax and Grammar Mistakes

This is the most common error that translators make in their translations. This can stem from two factors – complacency or experience.

Complacency in translation, like in other industries, comes from being “in the game” for too long and not giving enough attention to detail. Simple mistakes such as proper spelling or punctuation can alter the meaning of a whole document.

Experience, or the lack of it, can also lead to mistakes in syntax and grammar. Without proper language training and cultural experience, the translation will be very challenging and may lead to losing your reputation. In Hanyu Pinyin (Mandarin), something as simple as the tones can completely change the meaning of a word.

These common mistakes are all avoidable, but when committed and published, may lead to disastrous results. This is why hiring professional translators that are committed to quality and excellence is important, so nothing is lost in translation.

About the author

Rana Hamodah

As a migrant to Canada, Rana understands the challenges newcomers face and how access to information can help ease the transition.

Her two Bachelors of Arts in Linguistics and Literature and Translation paired with her Masters in Education and her candidacy for a Ph.D. in Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy (EDD) at the university of British Columbia make her uniquely qualified in ethnocultural communications. She is a Commissioner for Oath and can administer oaths and take, receive, and attest affidavits, affirmations and declarations. Currently, she is also pursuing her Immigration Consultant Certificate.