5 translation errors to avoid

5 errors

Whether you are a new translator or an experienced one, you know that you are not completely safe from committing errors when translating. Obviously you wouldn't make the mistake of carbon copying the source, or translating word for word the original text. However, you must still be aware of a number of recurring errors seen in translations. Here are the 5 traps you must avoid.


This error occurs when you mistake one word for another. It is an error regarding the meaning of a word in the text. The fault can be more or less serious depending on if the translation remained in the same lexical domain or if it completely changed topics.


Don’t confuse misunderstanding and misinterpretation. While a misunderstanding can occur on a single word in a text, a misinterpretation occurs when an entire sentence or paragraph is translated erroneously.

Misinterpretation can result in a translation completely contrary to the original meaning of the text. It is a large and potentially serious error depending on the extent of the text affected.


This occurs when a word is distorted or doesn't exist at all in the target language. It is an error of vocabulary that changes the formation of the word. It can be the result of an inversion of letters, additional or missing letters, or the improper use of a word with a strong similarity to another word.

From the Latin barbarismus (faulty expression) and Greek barbaros (foreigner), barbarism literally means a faulty foreigner’s expression. The distorted or malformed word is, therefore, an imitation of the language of barbarians. Sometimes, barbarisms are committed by natives of a language outside of any translation. The same words are often mistaken, such as effect and affect or their, there, and they’re, etc.

These lexical errors can be seen as minor or even exotic. According to Chateaubriand, “A good barbarism can stay in a language without disfiguring it; solecisms can never establish themselves without destroying it.” 


If barbarism breaks the rules of the form of a work, solecism breaks the syntax of a phrase. This kind of error occurs when a sentence doesn't follow the natural syntax of a language. It is equivalent to any other syntactic error. In English, perhaps the most common form of solecism is the double negative. An example of this can be heard in “Another Brick in the Wall (part 2)” by Pink Floyd, “We don’t need no education.”

The word solecism originates from the Greek colony of Soli in Cilicia. Ancient Athenians believed the colonists’ dialect to be a linguistic massacre and thus named the errors solecisms.


This translation mistake comes from abandoning or refusing to translate a part of a text because of its difficulty. Generally, it is a single word or a portion of a text that is too complicated for a translator.

Rather than creating a misunderstanding or misinterpretation, the translator would prefer not to translate the section at all. And yet, it is as detrimental for the reader and for the text's original author, who may feel betrayed by the translator. This error has even been the subject of a disclaimer “errors and omissions excepted,” in certain legal or accounting documents.

Obviously, outside of just these five traps, a translator must also avoid committing orthographic errors, or mistakes in conjugation or syntax. And, while he needn’t be an acclaimed author, he must undertake to maintain the original spirit of the text while avoiding poor turns of phrases or stylistic transgressions.

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