Translation Errors

One of the greatest missions for all translatologists, translation theorists and translation trainers is being able to isolate the problems related to the translation process and the translation product.

Unfortunately, getting in the mind of the translator (or, in fact any other human) is a near impossible task, thus the possibility of analysing the translation process – that is knowing what takes place between the original and the translated text – is marked by estimation, approximation and guesswork.

The only reliable pieces of evidence we have in the analysis of the translation process is the original (source) text and the translated text (the translation product). Therefore, the first step in analysing the translation process (read translation product) is the final translation.

Whilst looking through research available on errors in translation (including work in translation quality assessment) it became clear that a errors seem to oscillate around similar areas. An interesting taxonomy put forward by Raf Uzar highlights seven major error categories:

Word/Phrase Order

This taxonomy gives us a point from which we can begin the slow and laborious task of assessing translation through the isolation of particular categories of error.


51 thoughts on “Translation Errors

  1. Yes, it’s a system I came up with a few years ago and seems to work well with a variety of texts and genres. I actually created sub-categories for each of the seven major categories. Here are a few simple examples:

    – conjunctions
    – inter-sentential
    – extra-sentential
    – nouns
    – verbs
    – adjectives
    – manner
    – quantity
    – collocation
    – idiom
    – formal
    – register
    – punctuation
    – spelling
    – phrasal order
    – word order

    I found the taxonomy worked well and I even created an Translation Quality Assessment interface that could help translators error tag texts. It’s still at the developmental level but with support could reach a more ‘final’ version.

  2. In my opinion, it is advisable to check translation errors according to the taxonomy listed above. It helps a lot in refining the final translation product. When one remembers the common translation errors (I mean the areas in which they occur) I think it is more probable that one will avoid making errors or at least one will make fewer errors. I applied this strategy in my latest translation project and I think my final translation was better than the former ones.

  3. If I had a translation specialization I would use those categories. However, I am on Scandinavian specialization. Nevertheless, if in the future I will be translating anything, I will use those categories. They appear to be very useful.

  4. In my opinion, it is very useful to be aware of these translation errors and check a translation product according to thei categories. They will not onle help a translator to improve, but also the quality of translation products would be better.

  5. I think that this categorization may help us to improve our translations,as we know which translation errors we make the most often. We can check our translation on the basis of these categories.

  6. I agree that in order to improve our translations we need to define what errors we make and then look through grammar books to omit such errors in the future Generally I think that translators I have problems with finding appropriate words that suit the text and with deterniners.

  7. I did not realize it before, but it really seems true- when you know that all the errors are grouped like that you start to think which ones are yours! And when you already know that you try to focus on them and thus you pay more attention. The most difficult part is to find out that people (me:)) keep repeating THE SAME errors again and again…

  8. This taxonomy is great but only if you have a loooot of time to do your translation. I know that in ideal word we should triple-check everything and give to someone else to give us a feedback. However, if you have an hour to translate a single-spaced page with a technical vocab you can rely only on your internal knowledge.

  9. Well, I think that defining errors in translation may be very helpful. When something is “said aloud” (named), you can focus on improving it, ie. when the problem is known, finding a solution is easier, as you can look for the reason and consciously take it into account – in case of translation the problem is making and repeating errors. That’s why we should be aware of that and read our translations a few times just to correct and eliminate errors on the basis of taxonomy above.

  10. “to isolate the problems related to translation” – it should be the motto of every translator!:) I think that the biggest problem here is that we forget about errors we usually make during the translation process. Maybe it is because of stress or limited time…But the taxonomy seems really helpful. First, we should be aware what errors we make when translating. Then, we should remember about the taxonomy and especially our own usual errors, and check the translation.

  11. I agree with you guys. I find the taxonomy of errors very useful and helpful in revising the final translation product. It is even more profitable if you focus only on one error category while reading the translation then you will spot more of them.

  12. In my opinion it is very important to categorise most often made mistakes in order not to repaet them again and again. After naming the problem it is easier to find it while checking own translation.

  13. I must admit that when I got to know this classification of errors I realised that it can be very useful while proofreading the translated text. So now when I translate something into English I pay special attention not to make errors from the categories that I find the most common for me.
    It is true that when we name the problem it is easier to find a remedy.

  14. Major error categories are, of course, very useful way to check our translation while rereading. Everyone who translates should have it in mind, or better have the list printed, and always remember to check the translation point by point. One may say there’s no time for that. TIME is the biggest obstacle for translators. But I hope the more you translate the more time you have. The sad thing is that even a lot of practicing does not always guarantee full correctness.

  15. I must say that after a while I get used to check all that I’ve translated even three or more times. I do it to make sure that I made so little mistakes as it is possible. However, sometimes there are still some that I cannot get rid of them, but I try.

  16. In my opinion it is very important to categorize mistakes as after naming the problem it is definitely easier to notice it and correct while checking the text. What is more, you know what you should focus and work on.

  17. Categorizing the mistakes may help you in impoving the translation. It is a good idea to print out all the categories as listed above and trying to figure out all the mistakes on the basis of this list. But unfortunately many people work in hury, or maybe they are too lazy to do it. It is not good, because you have to be as perfect and correct as possible and convey the message in an appropriate way. I mean, if you can be perfectly correct in the translation at all.

  18. It ‘s good to have all the errors categorized because then we can easier identify the errors in our translations. It’s very important to read our translation having in mind those categories. Being able to categorize our errors is half of success.

  19. My errors are that I do not pay as much attention as I should to the determiners. This is probably because I have a tendency to write the way I speak, ’cause if I use let’s say “more sophisticated” phrases or vocabulary I feel weird as I would’ve never used it in a real conversation… But determiners… yes – no excuse for that:) Also sometimes I could’ve chosen a better word- although the one I used is not so bad, there is a better one…

  20. This is really interesting stuff. I usually don’t categorize the errors, but I can see that this might be useful. Firstly because it makes you see the mistakes you never thought were there. Secondly gives you the reason to think of better word to choose.

  21. I agree that this taxonomy of errors is very useful. When we know what kind of mistakes we make most often, it is easier to avoid them and to make better translations. What is more, it also improves our language skills

  22. A very interesting taxonomy, indeed!
    What I tend to pay most attention to is cohesion, because after translating a text if often occurs that it is not as coherent in Polish as in English original. Here, I mean, say, the line of thought/reasoning or just simple logic.. another one is collocation – I always need to practice it the most. Here is my hierarchy (starting with which I have least problems with):

    1. graphemic/technical
    2. grammar
    3. word/phrase order
    4. coherence
    5. style
    6. cohesion
    7. lexical

    Being aware of one’s errors (and their categorisation) is crucial in getting rid of them, I believe. That is why Raf’s taxonomy may be of great use to us, students, in analising our translations and improving their quality.

    Thanks Raf! 🙂

  23. That is the Raf’s taxonomy (provided during one of our workshops) with what falls into the categories:
    1. Grammar
    – Verb
    – Noun
    – Pronoun
    – Adjective/Adverb
    – Determiner/Article
    – Preposition
    2. Cohesion
    – Conjuctions
    – Lack of Verb
    – Lack of Subject
    – Lack of Object
    – Negation Error
    – Repetition
    3. Lexical
    – Word Omission
    – Word Addition
    – Inappropriate Word
    – Collocation
    – Idiom
    4. Coherence
    – Meaning change
    – Long – winded
    – Unfinished Phrases
    5. Technical
    – Punctuation
    – Spelling
    6. Word Order
    – Word/Phrase
    – Sentence
    7. Style
    – Register
    – Formal/Informal

  24. To my mind, this categorization can really help us to improve quality of our translation and also eliminate mistakes from our “translation product.” Thanks to this list we are able to take into consideration errors we usually make. By the way, it is worthy to print out this categorization, hang on the wall and check every translated text according to this list:)

  25. I thing that categorization of errors might be very helpful in translation. I remember from my high school that my teacher never said what kind of mistakes I made. She was just saying “Fix it” and that was it. I’m convinced that knowing what kind of mistakes we make will help us to improve our writing skills and we will be just getting better and better. MAybe after some time we’ll be making no mistakes 🙂

  26. In my opinion dividing mistakes into specific categories is a very good idea. It is very helpful for us as future translators as well as teachers of English language. Thanks to this list of mistakes we can be more aware of what kind of mistakes we do most often and look for them in our translations in order to get rid of them. Moreover, when we check our students’ papers we can give them exact information what kind of mistake they did what will definitely help them improve their writing.

    1. Yes, I mean this particular system. I also think that specifying mistakes is generally very helpful when translating as well as checking students’ papers.

  27. This categorization is definitely helpful for both teachers and translators.But asked by mr Uzar to find those mistakes in a complete text gave headache. It is not so difficult to find them in a text but to name them. Cannot imagine myself checking my students’pieces of work and going thru Mr Uzar’s list at the same time in order to find a particular kind of mistake.
    Regardless of what I have written above it is important to be aware of the mistakes we make and try to get better by analyzing the given list.

  28. I think that this taxonomy is very interesting and useful because it shows what I should be concentrated on while checking my final translations. And being aware of mistakes that can occured will definately help me to get rid of them. What is more, I agree with Anna that such list of errors is also useful for me as an English teacher because it can be used while checking my students’ works e.g. essays or formal letters etc.

  29. Of course those categories are useful, but defining the category you have problems with itself, won’t change anything. As I’ve got problems with spelling I should not only use the spellchecker, but also read more and try to be less chaotic. So it is just a beginning of a hard work for me not a solution to all my problems.

  30. I agree mostly with the above comments. However, when we translate a text having time limit sometimes it is often very difficult to remember about everything (especially when we are not experienced yet). But I think it is good to group and at the same time divide the most common mistakes into different categories and if we try to refer to that list whenever it is possible (while checking our translation) there is a chance that it will eventually become our ‘intrinsic’ point of reference.

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