4 mistakes to avoid with language translation

The wealth of translation and interpreting technology at our fingertips, from voice translation apps to the ubiquitous Google translate, means many of us to take language translation for granted – simply run your message through a computer program and it’ll give you an instant translation.

While this technology does have its uses, it’s not without its pitfalls – all of which can be avoided by using a professional language translation service.

Here are some of the most common translation mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Not considering style or tone when translating to another language

Simply translating text verbatim is a big mistake to make – although words might be translated correctly, the sentence structure, subject-object arrangement, and subtle nuances of the language can quickly throw the simplest sentence off course.

And this can be exacerbated further if the translation doesn’t consider the style and tone of the original piece. If, for instance, the original piece is about a relatively dry subject – say personal finance – but has a more relaxed tone to make it accessible to a wider audience, its impact could be lost in translation if the interpreted piece carries a formal and authoritative tone.

This is a mistake that can be made by both machine and human translators alike, so when using a translation service, always make sure you agree on the tone and intent of the piece before it’s translated.

2. Not getting your translations proofed by a native speaker

The knowledge of a native speaker should be leveraged at every opportunity. If a native speaker isn’t doing the actual translation, then you should make sure they at least proofread it. Aside from making sure any syntactical nuances are in order and the correct tone is being maintained, native speakers will be able to pick out problems that commonly occur when using slang, sayings, or tag lines. One of the most high profile incidences of such a mistake came when HSBC’s “Assume Nothing” campaign was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in some countries.

When scheduling any language translation project, time should always be set aside for final proofing, preferably by a native speaker who has a natural understanding of the language that goes above and beyond the technical aspects.

3. Not taking into account the evolution of words

Words and language evolve – not only do certain words take on new meanings over time, but their applications can also vary according to the context they’re being used in and brand new words are added to dictionaries every single year.

Using a language translation service means this should be taken into account by the translator, who should be constantly studying their language and updating their vocabulary with new words, trends, and meanings.

4. Not considering numbering formats and conventions

Numbers are easy to overlook when translating languages – they’re just numbers after all. But all translations need to pay careful attention to all numerical information as formats can differ from country to country. The most obvious example is how the UK date format of ‘DD/MM/YY’ differs from the US format of ‘MM/DD/YY’ – simply getting this wrong could greatly affect the accuracy of an article. And then there are other conventions to consider, such as currency and the metric system, which affect how weight measurements, distance, and temperatures are recorded.