How to Avoid Embarrassing Translation Mistakes and Costly Errors

by | Feb 15, 2023 | Language, Translation

If you’re serving customers from around the world, chances are not all of your target markets have English as their first language. You’ll need language translation to effectively market your services and communicate with your customers. On the other hand, there are companies in certain industries wherein accurate translation is a must to ensure regulatory compliance.

Whichever case applies to you, hiring professional translators to provide translation services is imperative. If not, there is a huge risk of committing common translation mistakes and errors that could cost your entire business!

To avoid that from happening, check out our comprehensive guide on the common mistakes to avoid and what you must do instead.

Woman sitting at a desk, looking at a document to translateImportance of Accurate Translation

Accuracy is essential to effectively convey your message without losing essential information. Accuracy in any translation project is about preserving the message’s original intent and ensuring no important details are left out.

It is also free from mistakes typical of poorly translated material. Several translation errors reflect on you as an individual or a business entity, which could negatively impact your reputation and credibility. Therefore, it must be avoided at all costs.

In 1977, former US President Carter went to Poland and delivered a speech to the audience. However, due to some translation mistakes, the speech turned out to be somewhat confusing and even comical. When Carter said “I left the United States this morning”, his inexperienced interpreter translated it to “I left the United States, never to return”.

Another translation mistake was made when President Carter used the word “desire” in his speech which was translated to “lust” in Polish. When Carter intended to say he wanted to learn about people’s desires for the future, it was turned into him saying he had carnal desires for the Polish people.

This goes to show that when it comes to accuracy, you should rely on only professional translation services.

Why Word-for-Word Translation Doesn’t Always Work

Performing word-for-word translation is one of the reasons why individuals or businesses commit common errors during translation. Hence, it’s not the best approach and is not recommended when undergoing translation projects.

notepads with words written in different languagesHere is why translating word-for-word does not work in translation: words need context. Without that context, words lose their meaning. One common example where this approach to translating source material is when there are idioms involved. Obviously, you cannot use a word-for-word approach in translating idioms. If you do this, you lose the meaning of the phrase you’re translating.

And the meaning is the heart and soul of any translation work. A single word (or words) can have more than one meaning in a specific language. Inexperienced translators who focus on translating every word from one language to another could end up with a sentence construction with a meaning far-fetched from the intent of the source.

For this reason, understanding the context behind those words and the overall meaning should be the focus when doing translation work. If not, the translated material could have a different meaning than intended.

Machine Translation Errors

Machine translation is growing in popularity nowadays. Many businesses employ them because they are equipped with AI technology, such as translation memory. While they are a good way to simplify your translation process, it’s not always reliable. As context understanding is key to providing accurate translations, human translation is still superior to machine translation especially if you want to avoid translation mistakes.

Machine and translation software programs are still prone to error. After all, it’s still humans who program them. The following is a list of the example of errors that could result from the use of translation software:

  • Word order
  • Proper noun translations
  • Inability to identify new words or different languages
  • Inability to correct errors from the source text
  • Increased reliance on literal translations
  • Focus on finding the corresponding translated word (instead of using context)

Literal Translation: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

man with headphones doing translation workIn addition to translating a text word-for-word, this type of translation should also be avoided. It is one of the most common translation mistakes that inexperienced translators are guilty of committing. It also shows a lack of excellent command of the language that the text is being translated into.

There are so many potential translation mistakes when you take the literal approach. Here are a few examples.

1. Medical Mishaps

Medical translation is one of the most challenging types of translation work that one could undertake. It takes advanced knowledge in the medical industry and translation to succeed in medical translation. Translating the wrong word or not understanding the whole context of the text could result in a different meaning, which in a medical setting could have serious consequences.

Therefore, avoiding translation mistakes involving medical documents or texts is important.

2. Misinterpreted Instructions

Another example of common translation mistakes involves a series of instructions or labels. The translator must be knowledgeable about the target language and the context of the instructions. If not, they could end up using literal translation, and the corresponding word might not be the best fit for the context of the sentence. It is a costly mistake because it could cause harm or injury to the user reading the instruction.

3. Cultural Misunderstanding

Cultural differences and context could also play a role in the translated content or local language. For businesses, it is crucial to hire professional translation services to avoid common translation mistakes that offend certain cultures or show cultural insensitivity, such as using the wrong words for a particular context. Any of these mistakes could be detrimental to your business reputation and brand.

4. Technical Document Errors

Translation mistakes have no room in various technical industries, such as manufacturing and engineering. Any mistake, such as choosing certain words that don’t fit the context or could lead to confusion, could be potentially dangerous or result in malfunctioning in manufacturing goods and products. The best translators handling these documents must be experts in both the source and target languages. They must also be aware of the context of the application of such documents.

5. Marketing Blunders

Companies that employ translation for global marketing should also pay close attention to the correct use of translations when penetrating new markets. Working with two languages (or more) can be tricky when the translator has limited knowledge or expertise.

It is crucial that your chosen translator understands the language and cultural context of other countries when providing translation services. Otherwise, it could be a costly error that seriously harms your brand image.

Why Translation Mistakes Are Costly

Translation mistakes are costly depending on the type of document and the purpose of that document. Therefore, organizations’ risks when tapping a language translation service can be small to serious.

man sitting at a desk, doing translation workAt best, you can find minor translation mistakes that can be corrected. But the worst kind of mistake is the one that results in serious consequences, such as health risks in medical settings or huge financial losses in the financial industries. In some cases, companies could face expensive lawsuits due to translation errors.

Therefore, choosing your translator carefully is always a good practice to avoid many mistakes that could cost your business a lot of money – and its reputation.

How to Avoid Costly Translation Errors

Identifying common translation mistakes is crucial for ensuring accurate and effective communication across language barriers. Translation mistakes can lead to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and even offence, all of which can be costly in terms of time, money, and reputation. The first step to avoiding and reversing translation mistakes is to recognise what they are. Here are some additional tips to avoid embarrassing mistakes:

Hire a Professional

The first step to avoiding costly translation mistakes is to work with professional translation services. Humans have studied language and grammar rules, such as syntax, context clues, etc. Meanwhile, machine translations rely only on the data stored in their memory. It is unable to deliver reliable translations outside of those data.

Choose a Translation Specific to the Industry

Another advantage to working with human translators is finding translators with specific knowledge or expertise in a certain industry. For example, medical translation is a specified field wherein you can find linguistic experts with a medical background.

Take Your Time

The final tip to avoid costly translation mistakes is to give your translator enough time to study the source material. The more time you provide for them to work on the document, the better they can understand its context, meaning, and intent.

It’s better to spend more time during the translation process rather than spend more time fixing those errors later on. The translation work should consider grammar, syntax, phrases, language, and the right tone.

The Importance of Working with Professional Translators

As mentioned above, working with an experienced translator is the first and most important step to avoid costly translation mistakes.

Man with headphones writing something and looking at his laptopTranslating from one language to another takes a complex understanding of the topic and the two languages. Therefore, you need someone with expertise in the subject matter, the context of the original term and material and the audience.

These are factors that only a professional translator would have an understanding of and could factor in when translating the text. But not all translators are created equal. Make sure you choose the language provider and make them go through a vetting process to ensure they’re the right fit for your needs.


Costly translation mistakes could be easily avoided by implementing a proper review process to ensure accurate translations. You should have a system to identify errors and correct them before they are made public.

In addition, you must communicate your requirements with the translator before starting any work. You can set expectations and have a clear goal of what you want to achieve so that you are on the same page with the translation projects.

At My Language Connection, we strive to assist companies like yours in breaking into international markets by enabling you to effectively communicate with your partners and clients in their native languages. With our help, you can confidently reach out to your international audience, establish strong connections, and achieve your business goals. Get in touch today to arrange a quote.

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