blog-erreurs-traduction1Translation is both easy and complicated. If you speak several languages fluently, you have an online translator, or you can find a French-English dictionary, you can try being an English-French translator… but there is a whole world between a simple translation and a correct one. As we delve deep into a language’s nuances, few translations will come out with the original text’s rhythm, correct language, message, and tone. We see this very clearly in text translations such as novels: from one translator to the other, the final product could end up being a completely different book.

This does not mean that it is impossible to be a good translator without having studied translation. By learning about how to make the right choices, and especially about the errors to avoid, we can take a big step. In order to help you, here are the most common errors in translation: three things to look out for while translating.

Translation is not repetition!

The most common translation error is translating word by word or doing a literal translation. Languages often have unique syntax and structure.

In order to avoid literal translations, you have to speak to people in the language into which you want to translate in order to understand sentence structure and how they express themselves. You also have to know the culture behind the language, because they are both intimately linked. For example, if you translate a document about the minimum wage into French you would have to use the term “SMIC” because there is no literal English-French translation of this term. Each country and cultures have specific terms that cannot be translated as it is, and translators need to find solutions when confronted with this issue.

It is also crucial to know idiomatic expressions and proverbs. For example, for a Spanish-English translation, “Estar como una cabra” literally translates to “To be like a goat,” and means “To be furious.” The closest expression in English would be “To fly off the handle.”

Spelling Mistakes

Spelling mistakes are not necessarily a translation error, because native speakers make them as well… and they make them more often than you would expect! Here are some common spelling mistakes in English:
– “there” instead of “they’re”
– “pronounciation” instead of “pronunciation”
– “recieve” instead of “receive”
– And my favorite: “too” instead of “to”

As far as common mistakes when it comes to translating texts go, we have, for example, choosing between the verb “to make” and “to do.”

Proofreading is Crucial

I’ve noticed that after we reach a certain level of comfort with a language, it is difficult to go back once we’ve adopted these habits. As far as I am concerned, this happens when I translate texts into English: I use Anglicisms in French and Francisms in English without even realizing it. There is therefore only one remedy: proofreading, again and again, and out loud! Often, I can find a translation error more easily when I am reading out loud than when I am just reading. I read a sentence out loud and tell myself: “Hey, this seems a little weird,” so I question myself. A translator’s worst enemy, in my opinion, is having too much self-confidence.

I hope that this article will help you avoid the most common translation errors. Discover our article about 5 Things You Should Know About Automatic Translation in order to further your knowledge of the subject (or to reinforce it!).

Do not hesitate to contact Smylingua for your translation projects by phone at +33 1 76 43 32 76 or by email at


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