7 Document Translation Mistakes to Avoid for Small Businesses

Business, Language

There are tons of benefits to translating your business documents into other languages. Even for smaller businesses, a tiny degree of globalization can open up new markets.

But, to make the most out of your translated content, an accurate translation is crucial. Otherwise, you risk looking unprofessional to new audiences, and you might lose customers before they even consider your proposition.

To achieve high-quality results, a specific set of skills and knowledge is required. It’s normal to make occasional mistakes with any challenge, and translation is no exception. But, we want to keep these errors to a minimum.

So, to help you out, we’ve taken a look at seven document translation mistakes commonly made in different types of documents. That way, your small business will hopefully avoid them from the get-go.

Let’s dive in!

1. Attempting to Translate Word for Word

Often, people attempt a technical translation by trying to translate the sentence structure word for word. This can lead to issues with the punctuation, structure, and grammar of the final result.

While word-for-word translation is the most straightforward way to translate, it often doesn’t present a polished end product. Problems arise when some words don’t have a literal translation and require an explanation in the context.

Some words and fixed expressions result in distorted or meaningless sentences when translated.

When translating legal, medical, or technical documents, a word-for-word translation of the text can result in grave errors.

Medical language, for example, utilizes terminology specific to its industry and uses abbreviations, which have different meanings in different languages.

If you entrust your project to a machine translation program, the quality of your translations will suffer as a result. The same might happen if a non-professional does the translation.

2. Ignoring Cultural Nuances

Some colloquialisms don’t exist in other cultures. Did you know the phrase ‘to kill two birds with one stone’ exists in different variations across Europe?

In Germany, the same meaning is expressed in the phrase: “To hit two flies with the same fly swatter.”

Ignoring such cultural changes and translating the phrase into the same words can lose the meaning of a sentence entirely. Professional translators who are adept at speaking different languages try to go beyond the literal meaning of words.

This means that they try to identify what words mean in the cultural context and find the appropriate phrasing to express the same meaning. This is especially important for untranslatable words.

3. Misinterpreting Subject Matter

Technical translations can go amiss if the translator doesn’t know the subject matter. Consequently, the context could be lost on them, and they might miss a crucial phrasing, instruction, or dates and names, in their translation.

Industry-specific words don’t always translate directly and must first be understood to be correctly translated. A translator that knows the subject matter and context can choose an appropriate replacement more easily.

This is why translation is a field in which years of training are required. Translators must not only know the languages by heart but also be able to understand the context and industry-specific subject matter.

4. Not Having a Native Speaker Translate Your Documents

Translating is no simple task, and it’s reasonable to make mistakes when you’re translating into your second language. The easiest way to catch errors, awkward phrasing, or unclear paragraphs is to run the document by a native speaker.

They will naturally be able to pick out issues with the translation. If you’re going to be presenting documents to clients, it is best not to miss this step.

5. Not Creating a Glossary in the Process

If you’re working with technical documents or those that include branded product-names, specific terms will pop up more than once that require a particular translation.

It’s essential to be consistent with how these terms are translated throughout the document. Professional translators create a glossary or translation memory database as they go. They can refer back to see whether there’s already an adequate translation for the term.

Failing to set up a glossary could result in inconsistent and confusing translations, and lose some of the brand identity.

6. Not translating Style or Tone

Businesses working in different fields often let their identity shine through the tone of voice they adopt in their documents. For small businesses, this is an integral part of branding.

When you translate documents, it’s crucial the same tone and style influences the translated texts. This could mean using similar punctuation, sentence length, or slang. Sometimes, interspersing colloquialisms and/or humor is also necessary. 

7. Not Translating Numbers

It might not be immediately apparent, but numbers also need translating. Figures and stats could significantly change their value and meaning if they are left untouched during a translation.

Weights, distances, and temperatures, for example, occasionally need converting into a more commonly used system. Some countries use the metric system, while others use Imperial.

The time of day and date also vary. Some use a 24-hour system while others split time into AM and PM. Dates can put either the month or the day in the first slot.

Some languages break up large numbers with dots while others use commas. This can affect the decimal value of a figure!

Hire a Pro to Avoid These Mistakes

These seven document translation mistakes are best avoided with experience and training. That’s why you might want to hire a professional translating service to produce the most reliable results.

If that’s something you’re interested in, please feel free to reach out and contact us today. We’re always happy to help. Speak soon!

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