Multilingual translation is a process which requires extraordinary knowledge, commitment, skill and years of specialised training in order to provide a high-grade end product to the customer.
Since, in most cases, it is performed by humans (excluding machine translation) it is possible that mistakes can be made with multilingual translation. Whether because of the complexity of the topic, the limitations of a deadline or lack of information; either from a client who hasn’t provided all the required information or from the translator who hasn’t researched the topic properly.
Below, we’ve outlined some of the most common mistakes by translators and a few solutions on how to ensure things are done correctly.
Things to remember
The time and effort required in a multilingual translation project depend predominantly on the following factors:
- The client
- The target languages
- The deadline
- The complexity of the topic
Translating from one language to another is easier if they both belong to the same language family, such as from Portuguese to Spanish, for example. However, if it’s two completely different languages that need to be translated, such as from Mandarin to English, then things get more complicated.
One of the most common issues, particularly with reasonably inexperienced translators is the temptation to translate word-for-word in the same order, and this is a big mistake given that different languages use different word orders and punctuation.
Relatively speaking, we can separate the most common mistakes into two groups – technical errors and personal or subjective errors.
Frequent technical errors
Technical errors are often down to the fact that the translator will follow the format of the original source material, which creates mistakes with punctuation, structure and grammar, which are often:
- Retaining the same word order of the original text
- Using the same punctuation
- Keeping the same sentence length
- Using the same turn of phrases and idioms
- Failing to change the verb tense
Frequent personal/subjective errors
In some cases, translators make mistakes due to personal or subjective input; this includes:
- Fatigue – Multilingual translation requires enormous levels of concentration and errors can frequently occur if the translator is tired or fatigued
- Overconfidence – Errors can also occur when a translator has seen similar texts before and assumes the latest text will follow the same patterns
- Lack of research – New idioms, phrases, customs and terminologies are added to languages all the time, and it’s up to the translator to ensure they’re up to scratch on the latest phrases
- Relying on previous exposure to language – This is a common pitfall for inexperienced translators. They can begin to develop confidence when working as a teacher but fail to pick up the tips and tricks needed for effective written multilingual translation.
These pitfalls are easy to avoid if you are aware of them from the outset. Learning new techniques and perfecting the old ones are incredibly essential traits for a translator to possess.
How to get it right
Once you learn what mistakes are being made, you can use this knowledge to ensure you get them right going forward. The primary purpose of translation is to clearly communicate a message to an audience in their own language, which means it needs to pack a serious punch.
Any professional translator worth their salt will always do the following:
- Change the word order – In conjunction with the target language
- Reorganise phrases – This is to ensure that language nuances sound correct in the target language
- Use correct punctuation
- Restructure sentences
- Completely rewrite sentences and phrases – To ensure they convey the required intensity in the target language
- Transliterate names – Ensure to check with the client which version of their names have been used in the past and keep it consistent.
- Observe language naming customs – Some languages, such as Chinese for instance, the family name is written out before the given name.
Allotting adequate time to read the text before proceeding with the translation is of the utmost importance and, as with anything that involves writing or reading, it’s important to take some time away from the document to ensure that you return fresh and alert.
As a translator, you must always continue to sharpen and develop your written and spoken language skills. Keeping abreast of new developments in the industry, the latest technologies and any change in the phrases spoken in your target languages and how they are perceived.
Every piece of text is comprised of carefully chosen words and phrases, which, when brought together, are designed to convey a specific message in a certain way. When a translator receives a piece of text, the client is still trying to communicate that same message, only in a different language and it’s the job of a translator to keep this message intact for an audience that speaks a different language.
Making errors is human nature, and even the best translators are no exception to this, which is why a specific translation process is followed by any good translator, to decrease the chances of error and uphold high levels of quality.