The most common translation mistakes

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When a text is being translated, it is common for a series of errors to be made that repeat at an alarming rate. Below, we’ll tell you about the most recurring one and offer you the most effective solutions for you to avoid them.

The most common mistakes when translating a text

The following mistakes are often found in some texts and can even detract from the original meaning thereof.

1. Remember that “you” in English can be translated as “tú,” “usted,” “vosotros,” or “ustedes” in Spanish. The choice should be made after reading the sentence several times and picking the best term.

2. The “false friends.” Terms like anxious (“nervioso” in Spanish) can sometimes be mistranslated as “ansioso”, “eventually” is often mistranslated into Spanish as “eventualmente” despite the fact that it refers to something that could happen in the future and continue to develop. It is key to check the dictionary to understand the true meaning of each and every term.

3. Phrasal verbs. In English, economy in terms of language is important. Therefore, if this type of verb exists, it is precisely because they have a specific function. To translate only the main verb and not the special meaning brought on by the preposition will alter the results of the translation. 

4. Not thinking in the target language. It is common to think in your native language and translate directly. Examples of mistranslations for Spanish speakers include things like the people is or I have 15 years.

5. Not including the subject. In languages like Spanish and other languages that come from Latin, there are six verb forms with endings that tell you who the subject is, but this is not always the case in other languages. For example, the third person in English is usually left without a subject when, at times, it doesn’t make reference to the same subject as at the beginning of the sentence and it is impersonal. We recommend you read the sentence several times to discover the true meaning.

6. Not translating colloquial expressions. They are left out because the person doing the translation doesn’t know their meaning or to avoid using a lot of colloquial language. Apart from changing the original meaning of the text, it takes away a certain sense of “freshness.” We advise you to use a specific dictionary to find out how the expression can fit into the target language as well as possible.

7. Ignoring that numbers are not the same in all languages. In English, billion which in Spanish is really “mil milliones,” is sometimes translated as “billón” in Spanish, causing a serious problem in the translation.

8. Translating without taking into account the context, the possible irony, or the true meaning of each text. A translation is never a mechanical act that should be undertaken word by word. It is necessary to start by reading the text several times to detect the true intention of the author in order to tackle the translation in the best possible way.

We hope that these common problems help you to improve as a translator or even to detect the issues when reading the work of other professionals.

While it is important to translate all the terms, it is no less important to transmit the message of the text just as it was conceived by its author. This is the only way a perfect translation can be achieved that rises to the occasion and turns the work of the translator into a true reflection in another language of what was expressed in the original text.

Do you know of any noteworthy cases of mistranslations? Share them in the comments section!


This post is also available in: Español (Spanish) Français (French)