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Common Translation Errors and How to Fix Them

common translation errors

Did you know that a single word can change the course of history?

This is best exemplified by the infamous case of the “Mokusatsu” incident during World War II. The word, which has dual meanings in Japanese, was misinterpreted in the translation process causing significant consequences. It underscores the danger of word-for-word translation, or literal translations, and how easily meanings can be lost or distorted.

Such errors demonstrate why a professional translator is often essential, especially when the stakes are high. The ability to understand the nuances of the target language and to accurately convey the intended meaning is a skill that requires extensive training and experience.

Therefore, investing in professional translation services can mitigate risks and ensure the correct message is delivered.

What Are the Four Categories of Translation Errors?

In general, there are four primary categories of translation mistakes:

Pragmatic Errors

These occur when the translator fails to capture the context, purpose, or style in language translation. It’s a result of a lack of understanding of the source and target languages’ pragmatics and can significantly distort the intended meaning.

Cultural Errors

Cultural mistakes in translation arise from a lack of cultural competence in the source or target language. These blunders can lead to offensive or inappropriate translations, failing to respect the cultural norms and social customs of the target audience.

Linguistic Errors

These involve the incorrect use of grammar, punctuation, spelling, or syntax in language translation. It’s essentially about the mechanics of the language, and such errors can severely compromise the quality of the translation.

Text-Specific Errors

These are translation mistakes that occur due to the lack of familiarity with the subject matter or field-specific jargon. They stand out in technical, legal, or scientific texts where precision and clarity are paramount.

Types of Translation Errors

To be more aware of translation errors, here are some common ones to look out for:

Grammar and Syntax Errors

One of the most common translation errors, especially when dealing with different languages, is incorrect grammar and syntax error. It often stems from the failure to consider the rules of the target language.

For instance, incorrect verb inflections can significantly alter the meaning of a sentence. The translated word may be right, but the sentence structure might be wrong due to the disregard for the grammar rules of the target language. This can result in a confusing or completely inaccurate translation.

Machine Translation

Machine translation tools, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), have become a popular choice for those seeking quick and affordable translation services. However, while these tools can translate words, they often fail to interpret the context accurately, leading to erroneous translations.

One of the most common translation errors in machine translation is literal translation. The AI might produce the corresponding translated word, but the cultural and contextual nuances might be lost.

Slang, Idioms, and Regionalisms

Translating slang, idioms, and regionalisms presents a significant challenge even for professional translators. These expressions are deeply rooted in a culture and differ greatly even within the same language.

The literal translation of these phrases can lead to nonsensical or misleading interpretations. The key is understanding the culture of the target language and finding the closest equivalent phrase that carries the same meaning.

Cultural Misunderstandings

A lack of cultural understanding can lead to significant translation errors. This usually happens when a translator lacks knowledge about the culture of the source or target language. This is particularly relevant in translating works of literature, where cultural nuances shape the narrative.

For instance, a cultural item or custom might be translated correctly, but its significance within the story might be lost or distorted due to cultural misunderstanding. A deep understanding of both cultures can help in accurately conveying the intended meaning.

Missing Context

Missing context is a common error in translation projects, particularly in technical documents. Without a clear understanding of the context, a translator might choose the wrong word, leading to inconsistent translations.

The problem becomes even more pervasive when using machine translation tools, which often struggle to interpret context accurately. A well-executed human translation, on the other hand, can ensure the context is correctly understood and incorporated.


Every industry has its jargon, and when these specialized terms are not translated accurately, it can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. In the realm of translation, jargon errors often arise when translators are unfamiliar with the subject matter.

It underscores the importance of hiring translators who are well-versed in the specific industry or field related to the translation project. That way, they can deliver translations consistent with the terminology and language used in that field.

Errors in Source Documents

No matter how proficient a translator is, if the source document contains mistakes, be it grammar errors or factual inaccuracies, these will likely be carried over into the translated text.

This is why it’s not just about accurate translation but also about ensuring the source document is thoroughly checked and edited before starting the translation process. A meticulous review of the source document is crucial to prevent such errors from undermining the quality of the translation.

Tips to Reduce Translation Errors

Translation errors can be costly, but there are strategies to help you minimize them.

Here are some of the things you can incorporate into your workflow to ensure an accurate and reliable translation:

Post-Edit Your Machine Translations

Post-editing machine translations can significantly improve translation quality. A language service provider can correct common errors like wrong words and ensure the translated version resonates with the local language.

Do Cultural Research

Cultural research is crucial to avoid translation mistakes when working with two or more languages. Understanding cultural nuances can enhance the accuracy of language pairs translations.

Proofread and Edit

Proofreading and editing are integral to ensuring high-quality translations. They help identify and rectify wrong words and common errors, ensuring the translated version aligns with the local language.

Use Quality Assurance Tools

Quality Assurance (QA) tools support language service providers in maintaining translation quality. They help detect common errors, enhancing the readability and relevance of the translated version in the local language.

Hire Professional Translators

Professional translators, proficient in two or more languages, can ensure the avoidance of translation mistakes. Their expertise guarantees the translated version accurately represents the source content across various language pairs.

Need Professional Help? Call AFLS Today!

In a world that thrives on effective communication, accurate translations are paramount. At AFLS, we pride ourselves on providing high-quality, professional translation services that consider the nuances of language, culture, and context.

Our team of experienced translators ensures your message is conveyed accurately and effectively in any language.

Don’t let language barriers hinder your reach. Contact AFLS today, and let us help you communicate your world to the world.

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