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Avoid These Common Errors in Translation and You're Good to Go

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Avoid These Common Errors in Translation and You're Good to Go
on March, 20 2014

Knowing how to speak one language is one thing, but being able to translate it to another language is another story. Before you can successfully translate one language to another, you must have the mastery of both languages. Otherwise, you will fail to relay the proper message. Take note that the smallest errors in translation of certain texts could mean huge consequences. If you are tasked to translate something, you need to take note of the common errors other translators have committed so that you will avoid doing them.

The Literal Translation

This is one of the most common mistakes translators commit. There are certain expressions such as idioms or figurative languages that should not be taken literally. For instance, an idiomatic expression “snake in the grass” means a traitor. As a translator, you can either look for an appropriate idiomatic expression in the language in which it has to be translated or just translate the actual meaning and not the idiom itself. Otherwise, it will sound awkward and won’t make any sense.

Fillers and Expressions

In some languages, there are words that don’t necessarily have meanings. They are used to imply politeness or simply an expression. For instance, in Thai, women usually say “na kha” at the end of every sentence to sound polite. However, these words don’t have any meaning. Thus, when translating the sentence to another language, the expression does not necessarily have to be copied. Others try hard to look for a corresponding polite word, but other languages simply don’t use such expressions. Just make the sentences sound formal in order to relay the same tone.

Word for Word Translation

Translation is usually difficult especially for those who do a word for word translation. This is among the biggest mistakes in translation. The thought of the sentence or the entire context must be translated and not necessarily one word after another. There are also some languages in which the entire sentence can be expressed in one word. Thus, there is no reason to worry if the translated paragraph is shorter than the original paragraph. For instance, the Italian word “cualacino” literally means the mark left on the table by a cold glass. There is no single word translation for this word in English so it has to be expressed in an entire sentence. Another example is the Portuguese word “cafune.” This single word means running one’s fingers to another person’s hair gently when translated to English. As there is no one word equivalent in English, it has to be expanded that way.

Cultural Context

There are certain words that are culture-specific. This means that there is no actual translation in another language as these words don’t exist or are immaterial to another language. Therefore, the best thing to do is to just enclose the word in quotation marks and copy the exact word. Trying hard to translate this culture-specific word does not make any sense. This is usually common in foods. For instance, the Malay dish “laksa” is of local origin. It can be literally translated as a spicy noodle soup, but the point is there are a lot of different spicy noodle soups. Thus, the translator needs to further explain what the dish is like.

There are also other words that were created since the action is commonly done in a particular culture. For instance, in Czech, they use the term “Prozvonit” which literally means “dropped call.” However, it does not mean the call is dropped. It means that the mobile phone user calls someone and when it rings, the user hangs up. This is to signify that the person being called will return the call so that the user will save costs in calling. This might sound funny, but a single word mistranslation may cost millions of dollars in damages. For instance, in 2009, HSBC launched a campaign for rebranding with the tag line “Assume Nothing.” In many languages, it was translated as “Do Nothing” and it affected the company heavily.

In short, translators have to be careful with their choices of words and the way they organize them in a sentence to convey the right message.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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