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9 Common Translation Problems That You Should Know About

And what to do instead.

Lonnie Dahm

Updated on April 30, 2024

As a translator, it is crucial to recognize that even the most experienced professional can make mistakes. 

That is because translating any kind of document is a complex and technical task that requires a great deal of precision, skill, and an excellent command of written language – in at least two different dialects. 

To gain this, you need to have a sound knowledge of the terminology, syntax, idioms, and even the culture of the geographical region where the particular language is used – regardless of what is being translated.

However, some translators may find it challenging to produce high-quality translations because they are new to the field or must be fully aware of the job’s requirements for success. 

This article will examine nine of the most common translation problems translators encounter. By looking for these, you will ensure that your work is flawless.

Most common translation problems translators encounter

1. Poor communication with client

To avoid any potential misunderstandings, it is imperative to maintain an effective flow of communication with your clients.

If not, you may need clarification on the scope of the work assigned to you.

As a result, ensure a clear communication channel with clients and clarify any doubts or queries before starting the work.

Ultimately, this will help you to deliver a much better standard of service.

2. Word for word translation

To perform a successful translation job, it is important to focus on conveying the meaning as the original text while using appropriate grammar and syntax rules for the language you translate – instead of simply translating word for word from the original source.

This is because every language has its own grammatical rules and unique sentence structure. For instance, adjectives may be placed differently in some languages.

Similarly, subject-verb agreement rules may differ between the languages, and inanimate objects may have gender assignments that are absent in one or the other.

Moreover, gender assignments may differ between the two languages altogether. For example, ‘fatherland’ is used instead of ‘motherland’ in German.

As a result, you should carefully handle idiomatic expressions because a literal translation may not accurately represent the original text’s intended meaning.

3. Using incorrect words

Some phrases, words, colloquialisms, and jargon have no equivalent in the target language. Therefore, inexperienced translators can often make mistakes by using them in a different context.

In such cases, it is better to leave the original term as it is instead of trying to translate it word for word. 

This is especially true when translating legal documentation. Several French or Latin phrases are often incorporated into English texts or courts—such as de facto or habeas corpus—where only English is spoken.

4. Exaggerating the meaning of words

Translators may sometimes need to use complex or technical terms in their work, but clients only sometimes require this or appreciate it.

For this reason, it is essential to understand the client’s brief properly and only use appropriate language.

Generally speaking, if the translation is for personal use or a guide/manual, it is recommended to use simple language. 

However, if the work is a literary work intended for publication, it’s important to ask your client for clear guidelines regarding what publishing standard they expect.

5. Using a style and tone that is incorrect

Every type of written content follows a specific style guide.

Therefore, it is crucial to be familiar with it, as translated work that does not follow it can have significant ramifications. This is particularly true for medical transcripts or legal documentation.

The right tone is also critical when translating documents. Even punctuation can vary from one language to another and create a typographical error.

For example, a comma used in English may be unnecessary in Spanish. Knowing the nuances of each language is vital to enable you to produce high-quality work.

In addition, you will need to consider time and date formats, such as whether to use the 24-hour format or am/pm or a format like DD/MM/YYYY or MM/DD/YYYY.

Similarly, you need to express currency correctly, as you will place a different value on a figure if you put a dollar, pound, or euro symbol before it.

While these details may seem minor, they can significantly improve the overall quality of your translation work. 

6. Working in a language you are not proficient in

You should possess a deep and expert understanding of the source and target languages to deliver accurate translation work.

As a result, you should only accept translation projects for languages in which you are truly proficient. 

Taking on a project for a language you know well, but are not an expert in increases the likelihood that you will make errors – which could damage your professional reputation and limit future opportunities.

7. Taking on more projects than you can manage

Most professional translators can typically handle between 2000 – 2500 words per day, although this may vary depending on how much research they need to do.

Therefore, as tempting as it might be, accepting more work than you can deliver on time is not a good idea. 

Indeed, it is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than vice versa.

Overloading yourself with work can lead to stress, high pressure, and exhaustion, which could result in you producing sub-standard work.

8. Accepting projects that do not fall within your specialist area

You wouldn’t seek advice from an eye specialist about issues with your heart. Equally, you should not seek or accept work that does not fall under your areas of expertise.

Instead, you should specialize in topics you know a lot about or have plenty of experience in. This could include marketing materials, legal documentation, or movie scripts.

As previously mentioned, each topic has its tone, style, and specific jargon, which can be challenging if you’re unfamiliar with the subject. Stick to what you know to save yourself plenty of headaches.

9. Not being aware of new words or catchphrases

Language is a constantly evolving entity.

New words and catchphrases enter the common vernacular all the time. Therefore, translators must stay updated with these developments as they may need to use or translate them within their work.

To avoid getting caught off-guard by unfamiliar words or phrases, you should keep abreast of them. An excellent way to do this is to read a lot of current publications in both languages.

Conclusion

Given the many languages and cultural differences, translating documents or content takes a lot of work. So, translation problems are bound to pop up now and then.

If you take steps to steer clear or eradicate them, you will go a long way towards delivering top-quality work to your clients every time – benefiting your clients, your company, and you.

Ultimately, this will look very favorable for both your company and you.

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About the author

Lonnie Dahm

Lonnie is the Director of Client Services for GlobalLink GO. In addition to helping clients create the best possible localized websites, he enjoys working on his cars in his spare time.

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