Common translation mistakes

June 26, 2014 by admin

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While it’s generally accepted that nobody is perfect, those who work as a translator need to operate at a flawless level. After all, a mistake can cause not only embarrassment, lack of credibility, and loss of reputation and revenue for the translator but also potential disastrous consequences for those using the erroneous translation (e.g. error in pharmaceutical leaflets, or legal documents used in a court of law). With this in mind, it’s vital for those who are in this line of work to be aware of the most common pitfalls they are likely to encounter in their day-to-day job. Here are a few of those common translation mistakes.

Failing to prepare

Accepting an assignment with little or no background knowledge is a recipe for disaster.

This is especially true when the work involves specialist areas like the medical, financial or legal sectors, but even in the most basic of scenarios, it is essential that the professional has at least a decent knowledge of the field.

One of the reasons why this is such a problem is that context can often be a key component when it comes to the meaning of a sentence – and when the translator doesn’t have that understanding, it can often lead to confusion and errors. Take the example of legal translation: even a small change in the meaning of a translated legal contract can have huge consequences.

It’s also equally important to understand where the work they are producing will eventually be published or used, as this can affect the type of translation produced. If the professional does not know who their target audience is, it’s more than likely the finished translation will be unsuitable for its intended purpose.

Not getting their work edited is also one of common translation mistakes

Even when operating in English, it would be foolish to submit a piece of work without having it checked over by someone else first.

While this can be difficult if the translator is a freelancer operating off their own back, they should still make the effort to have their finished article edited or proofread by someone else who speaks the language their translation has been produced in.

If you are commissioning work, then you should always ensure this process takes place before you get it back. Alternatively, you can always source your own editor to check that everything is as it should be.

Getting too creative is one of the most common translation mistakes

While some may see translating as an art, it’s important that the essence of what is being said never changes.

However, one of the common translation mistakes for inexperienced translators is to inadvertently put their own spin on their assignment by inserting some of their own creative suggestions into the copy.

This could mean they put too much emphasis on a certain word or phrase, slightly alter the meaning of the sentence to add their own humour or wit to ‘enrich’ the piece or change the style of the writing to match their own.

At worst, this can completely compromise the meaning of the original text or make it less suitable for its intended audience – so focusing on what is being said, even if they think it could be written better or put across differently, is a skill that professionals need to acquire.

Ignoring the flow

As much as getting too creative can be a problem, sometimes translators do need to stray slightly away from the source text to achieve the best results.

This is applicable when idioms crop up that would ruin the flow of the target language. Every tongue has its own unique phrases that, when directly translated, would come across as gobbledygook.

Often, the translation of idioms can be a real acid test when it comes to establishing the quality of the person carrying out your assignment, as to effectively do their job they need to have an in-depth understanding of both languages. This is also a reason why just because someone is a native speaker of your target language they aren’t necessarily going to be an adequate translator. The best translators have a thorough knowledge of both languages, training and experience in translation and a field of expertise.

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