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Do Translators Make Mistakes: and what happens if they do?

October 1, 2020by Emily Thomson

Everyone makes mistakes, it is only human but some mistakes are more of a problem than other mistakes. When translators make mistakes they could completely change the meaning of a text and even end up offending people and embarrassing themselves. This is why it is important to know how to fix them.

Do Translators Make Mistakes?

Yes, of course! We all make mistakes, including translators! Even though translators must complete thorough training and obtain many qualifications to become an accredited and certified translator, mistakes can happen and translators do sometimes make mistakes. Translation is a complex and demanding job which requires a lot of concentration and intelligence; this complexity is why translators make mistakes. Thankfully, because professional translators are so qualified mistakes happen very rarely and can normally be easily resolved. Translators must be fluent in both the original language and the target language; this helps prevent mistakes.

What Happens When Translators Make Mistakes?

In other industries small mistakes can be accepted and do not have any bigger effects or consequences. However, with translating sometimes even the smallest mistake can change the meaning of an entire document. These errors can result in translators losing money and reputation.

Some mistakes are so small they are simply over looked, other mistakes can be hilarious, but some mistakes can have very serious consequences especially when the translations are for the political, business, and medical industries.

What Mistakes do Translators Make and How to fix them?

Translators must be fluent in both the original language and the target language; this helps prevent mistakes.  But even with this and all of the training mistakes can happen, so what mistakes do happen and how do you fix it when translators make mistakes?

Not paying attention or over working
We are all guilty of only half paying attention to a task at some point! Taking on loads of translation work might seem like a great idea but being tired is not good; with translation you must be fully focused to prevent any silly mistakes.
Only doing direct (literal) translation and not localising the text
This is okay for some documents but other texts such as websites need localisation translation because some words do not have direct translations so this results in the meaning being changed and not suitable for the target audience.
Not having proper language knowledge
Some translators work free-lance and do not have the necessary translating qualifications. Just being good at a language is to enough to be able to translate accurately. This is why at Absolute Interpreting and Translations Ltd, we only accept native speakers who are accredited by The Association of Translation Companies (ATC).
Not applying the culture to target language
For example American English is different to British English just as European Spanish is very different to South American Spanish. If translators do not understand this then there will be many errors will be in the translated text and could even offend some cultures.
Not willing to get help or use resources such as a dictionary
We all need help sometimes and asking a colleague or friend for advice or to proof-read a translation can remove any mistakes made. Even just double checking with a dictionary when you are not positive is a great way to prevent mistakes.
Not attending frequent training to remain up-to-date about language developments
Languages are always changing and getting adapted over time for example nobody says ‘thou’ or ‘thine’ any more but we do say ‘hangry’ and ‘butt-dial’. If a translator did not know these terms and was to literally translate them, then the outcome could be very strange!
Working too quickly to complete more work
Not spending enough time on a translation, however small or simple it may be, may result in easily avoidable errors. Proofreading is essential; no translator is advanced or experienced enough to skip proofreading. Quantity over quality is never the best option in translating.
Being unwilling to embrace new translating technologies and adapt with the industry
Although translators cannot be replaced by technology, having a helping hand is always helpful and can result in increased accuracy and reduced time.
Being too advanced or too basic
Translators must be able to recognise the feel of the text and the formality of it. This must be reflected in the translated text. It is no good having a legal eviction document that gets translated into a light, friendly message. Equally a wedding invitation does not want to seem like a demand!

Famous Translation Mistakes from Around the World

confused man pointingTranslation mistakes are normally fixed and forgotten about however, there have been some mistakes made in the past which have gone down in history:

  • KFC’s slogan ‘finger licking good’ became ‘bite your fingers off’ when translated into Japanese.
  • Honda launched the car ‘Fiita’ in Sweden and Norway however ‘Fiita’ is a rude word in these countries (You can research this if you wish!)
  • In Berlin, 2007, surgeons were performing knee joint replacement surgery by following a translated instruction manual. The original English instructions said the knee implants were “non-modular cemented” but the translation said “aszementfrie” which means ‘not requiring cement’. This surgery was completed of 47 patients and as you can image they were not successful surgeries.
  • A Chinese sign saying ‘Safety warning’ was translated into ‘Beware of safety’
  • In the cold war, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev made a speech directed to America trying to say ‘we will outlast you’ but it was interpreted to 2we will bury you”. This greatly escalated the war tensions.


So translation is very important and translators make mistakes which can have a huge impact. It is important to always use a qualified and accredited translator. Absolute Interpreting and Translations Ltd offer many translating services.

Emily Thomson

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