Top 7 Common Mistakes Translators Commit When Translating Foreign Languages

The translation industry is growing at an unprecedented rate. The main reason for the growth of the industry is globalization. The growth in the transcription industry has led to the proliferation of transcription services. Some transcription companies offer multiple languages audio transcription such as English to Hebrew translation services

Thousands of newbies are looking to take advantage of the growth in the transliteration industry by becoming transcribers. However, there are several things you need to know before becoming a translator, and one of them is the common mistakes translators commit when translating foreign languages. No matter your proficiency in transliteration, you are human and are bound to make mistakes from time to time. Mistakes during transliteration and mistranslating can have far worse consequences. Stick around to learn the top 7 common mistakes translators commit when translating foreign languages.

1. Translating Documents in a Language You’re Not Proficient In

To do quality transliteration work, you need to be fluent in source and target languages. Most transcriptionists and translators make the mistake of choosing to translate a document or audio from or to a language they are not proficient in.

transliteration blunders can hurt your reputation and future career chances; thus, it is essential to only accept transcription work from or into languages you are fluent in.

2. Word for Word Translation

When translating, you must preserve the original meaning of the source material. One of the common mistakes most translators make, especially amateur transcriptionists, is doing a literal transliteration. Word-for-word transliteration may result in a jumbled mess of words.

Various grammatical differences exist between languages, such as how adjectives are positioned or the subject-verb agreement rules. Some languages even assign gender to non-living objects, which is not done in English.

3. Undertranslation and Overtranslation

These are two sides of the same coin. To under translate is to communicate less than the source or to oversimplify. Undertranslation occurs when you fail to acknowledge the necessity to compensate for the loss of meaning that is inherent in any transliteration.

Overtranslation, on the other hand, is the addition of words that were not present in the original text. Overtranslation can make the author appear to have said things they never intended to express or even things they desperately wanted to keep silent about.

4. Using Incorrect Words

This is a mistake that is quite common among novice translators. Because of their lack of experience, novice translators are more likely to use incorrect words or in the wrong context when translating. Certain slang, idioms and jargon simply have no translations in the target language. In these situations, rather than generating a new phrase because you believe every word must be translated, it’s better to stick with the original term.

Legal documents are particularly challenging to translate since many phrases in other languages are utilized in English documents or courts where English is the only language.

5. Noncompliance With Customary Etiquette

Another common blunder when transcribing from one language into another is failing to adhere to the grammatical and stylistic conventions of the target language. For a text to be effectively translated into another language, the translator must first become well-versed in the grammar and style of the target language. In the absence of a distinctive style, the transliteration will be seen as an absolute failure because of its forced appearance.

6. Numeric transliteration Mistakes

Despite the common misconception that all numbers remain the same even when written or said in different languages, there may be subtle differences in how they are written or spoken in different languages and countries. Most translators make the mistake of failing to note this and end up not making the necessary changes when they come across numerical texts or data.

It is imperative as a multi-lingual translator to keep an eye out for the numbers, symbols, statistics, values, and any transliteration of numerical information such as timestamps, currency, drug doses, etc. A good example is how numbers are expressed in U.S., U.K. and India. In both the U.S. and U.K. English, numbers with numerous digits are separated by a comma into groups of three digits. For example, one hundred thousand is written as 100,000. A hundred thousand is written as 1,00,000 in Indian English.

7. Wrongly Abbreviating

Transcriptionists should consider abbreviations when writing texts to ensure that the end-user has an enjoyable reading experience. Translating an abbreviation from or to a foreign language is an arduous task, and if this is not taken care of properly can result in translation gone wrong. The abbreviation you are translating may not exist in the target language, or it may be entirely fictitious. When dealing with an abbreviation in this situation, the best course of action is to research its definition and translate its meaning. It’s not a good idea to just translate the same abbreviation into another language, as this could lead to misunderstandings among your audience.


Some of the common mistake made by transcribers and translators alike are:

  • Selecting a language they are not fluent in as a source or target for transliteration.
  •  Literal transliteration.
  • Ignoring the grammatical and aesthetic norms of the target language.
  • Wrongly translating abbreviations from or to a foreign language.
  •  Numeric transliteration mistakes

Undertranslation and overtranslation