The five most common mistakes made in free translation

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Errors impact service integrity and professionalism

The translation segment is quite prominent around the world and is leveraged by globalization. However, this does not prevent errors in free translation, which unfortunately are more common than you might think.

When they do happen, there is a high probability that you will face serious problems. Those who are familiarized with the language pair will certainly realize there is something wrong with the text and this can impact your reputation and credibility, even if you are not aware of the mistake made.

Let’s check some of the reasons that lead to errors, as well as common examples and what can be done to prevent them.

Why are free translation mistakes so common?

Because the translator in charge is not always fit to handle service complexity level, which can result in simple errors sometimes.

According to a British Council survey, only 5% of the Brazilian population can communicate in English, and this represents just over 10.4 million people out of the 208 million Brazilians.

Regarding Spanish, the Brazilian government estimates that approximately 30 million people will speak Spanish as a second language in 2025, but the number is currently around 6 million (2.88% of the population).

These are the two most common foreign languages in Brazil, and they are the options available for National High School Exam (ENEM) applicants, who can choose in advance to answer five questions in English or Spanish.

Another important point is that people who can speak another language do not always have a high level of fluency, which seriously undermines the quality of the translation service performed.

According to the above British Council survey, of the 5% who claim to speak English, only 1% are fluent in the language, which is just over 2 million people. This in turn restricts the number of people who could perform effective translations.

Finally, it is important to stress that speaking English fluently does not mean the person will refrain from making free translation mistakes, because professional translation involves knowledge, techniques, practices and technologies to maximize translation effectiveness.

What are the most common mistakes in free translation?

Since English is considered a universal language, let’s stick to the most common mistakes made in that language, which will help you understand what to do when you come across confusing situations in free translation.

1 – Misinterpreting meaning in the source language

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest mistakes in free translation is to think about the literal meaning only, without taking into account the purpose of a particular word, sentence or phrase.

Let’s think about “it’s raining cats and dogs” – literal English translation would be “está chovendo cães e gatos”, which makes no sense unless weather conditions were absolutely insane.

Jokes aside, the real meaning of this sentence is that it is raining a lot, equivalent to “toró” in Brazil. Understanding the meaning of the source text is fundamental so that you can adapt it to an equivalent term or expression in the target language, and that will be hardly a literal translation of the original.

2 – Believing North American English is identical to British English

Here is another classic example that many people believe to be true, but it is not. Although in theory the language is the same, there are important differences between what is spoken and used in the United States and Great Britain.

They are indeed simple differences, but they do exist. Some of the main differences have been listed below, with their respective examples:

  • Words ending in “our” in British English end in “or” in North American English (“flavour” and “flavor”).
  • The suffix “se” for the British is “ze” for the Americans (“analyse” and “analyze”).
  • The suffix “re” for the British is “er” for the Americans (“center” and “centre”).

Although these are subtle differences, you need to be careful not to have problems with these types of translation errors.

Pessoa corrigindo erros em texto

3 – Translating without considering the style or tone of the source text

Think of how a poem is written, with all its nuances and overelaborate terms we see in literature. Now compare it to a technology story at a website specialized in the subject.

The language remains the same, but there are considerable differences in the words used, which should be compatible with the purpose of the text. Not paying attention to that is one of the greatest free translation mistakes.

In addition, these errors can also indicate the translator is not deeply familiarized with the language, as complex and traditional terms are not always part of everyday vocabulary, especially for those who do not master the language pair.

4 – Believing that simply being able to speak a language is enough to become a professional translator

This subject has already been addressed at the beginning of this text, but it is important to bring it up again. Even teachers who can teach in a foreign language can make translation mistakes when working with written documents, for example.

Translation is a true art and it involves a great deal of details that are known by people who devote their time to study and to learn until they feel confident to provide professional services.

Even in cases where translations are done for personal or leisure purposes only, it is important to be aware that mastering the languages involved and being able to translate them effectively are two distant concepts that can lead to errors in free translation.

See also: What are the 10 most common mistakes in document translation

5 – Not taking numbers into account

Last but not least, we should talk about numbers, units of measurement and the like, which do not always catch the attention of reckless translators, but they should.

Remember different countries use different units, especially when it comes to the United States, a country that uses inches, feet, miles and Fahrenheit degrees, for example.

According to the content, it is important to convert measurement units to those used in Brazil, although this is not always followed.

Stay away from mistakes in free translation

These are just a few examples of misconceptions that may arise in translations and they show how important it is to hire professional translators to ensure good-quality translations.

If you don’t want to face these and other mistakes in free translation, count on Fidelity, a translation agency with over 49 years of experience and highly-qualified professionals to meet customer demand with excellence.

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