Content Ruining Translation Errors


At some point in every business’ life, it is natural to want to expand to reach a broader audience with your message. However, remember how you painstakingly created just the right content for your business and marketing—the long hours, meetings and brainstorming spent trying to find the right words, image, and brand? Well, you wouldn’t want that same content that you molded and tweaked to perfection being ruined during the translation process.  Incorrect or mistake-laden translations will be at the least ineffective, worse costly and even worse still, tarnish your reputation. And errors you may encounter when your content gets translated are somewhat different from those you might see in your English material. Tread lightly here and go in armed with the knowledge of what could go wrong when your content gets translated. Better yet, hire a good translation company to help you avoid these missteps:

Mistranslations Mistranslations are just down-right wrong translations. Inexperienced translators without sufficient subject area knowledge may be prone to these. Arguably the worst consequences come from mistranslations, so it is always a good idea to have another translator proofread.

Missing Parts All the words you included in your local materials were selectively placed there. Be sure that when your message is translated, nothing is left out. Omissions could change your message completely.

Missing Localization Let’s say you need your documents translated into French, but you are trying to reach people in Quebec, Canada.  Be sure you choose a translator who knows Canadian French versus European French. There are a few differences in both the written and spoken French each area uses. Sure, they may understand what you are saying, but adapt your content to the local market. Don’t make your future French-Canadian clients feel like they are an afterthought by using European French in the materials you share with them.

The same could be said for Continental Spanish versus the Spanish spoken in South America and Continental Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. Take for example a medication label which states constipation as a side effect. Constipation translates into prisão de ventre in Brazilian Portuguese while in Portugal, they use obstipação. Further confusing is the word constipação which is nasal congestion in Brazil. So, localization really is key to avoiding misleading or wrong messages.

Forgoing Reference Materials All translators use reference materials: everything from dictionaries, glossaries and style guides.  If they have worked with you before, they have a database of your company’s background and product information. When translators forgo using these helpful items, the resulting translation can be inconsistent and unprofessional sounding.

Style Changes You want your translated materials to follow the same tone, cadence, and feeling as your source materials. It should also speak to the same audience as those you initially targeted in English. If you are targeting medical research professionals, the same style and voice should be used in your foreign language materials.  Be sure it is at the same reading level as well. Also make sure it is as formal and informal as you had initially intended and that it still looks and feels like your company, your voice.

Spelling and Grammar Errors Spelling and grammar errors make your content seem unprofessional, rushed or like you just didn’t care to put in the work required to reach your target audience. Misspelled names can occur often when the new language does not use the same alphabet. Since you are spending the money to create the translations, verify there are no such mistakes that can ruin your company’s chances at attracting a broader audience.

Inconsistent Terminology Confirm that your translated material uses the same jargon and terminology that you use on a regular basis. When these familiar words and phrases are not used, your brand’s message may be wrong, confusing or have the wrong connotations. Consistency is key here.

Errors in Table of Content and Index Watch that your tables of contents, indexes and footnotes enable readers to find the information they seek. For example, German words are known to be much longer than their English counterparts. The amount of space needed to translate from English into German can be up to 35% more. Comparatively, you may use to 60% LESS space when translating from English into Japanese. When this happens, the index and table of contents need to indicate these changes in the new language.

Errors in Hyphenation Watch where words are hyphenated in another language. Each language has rules as to where or whether a word may be hyphenated or where a line may break.

Capitalization Issues Pay attention to capitalization. These rules vary in each language. German, for instance, capitalizes every noun. If you forget to capitalize, the meaning of the word can change. When capitalized, Essen means food and essen is the verb to eat.

Incorrect Spacing & Typos Watch for typos and incorrect spacing. Some languages don’t have spellcheck, so this may be another job for a trusted proofreader!

Lack of Review Confirm that all translations are done through a Translation memory (TM) tool. TM software programs break down sentences and phrases into segments that translators work on one at a time. While this tool is helpful, it is important that these be checked to catch any errors or inconsistencies.

Translations can be tricky, but all of these pitfalls can be avoided by using a quality translation company.  Your business’ message and image has stood the test of time and it should continue to do so once it is translated.

Ilona Knudson

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