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Top 9 Common Document Translation Errors That You Need To Avoid

Posted by Chloe G. on March 28, 2023.

Document translation errors can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings, causing potential harm to businesses.

As globalization continues to bring people and businesses closer together, the need for document translation has become ever-increasing. From legal documents to marketing materials, accurate translation is essential for effective communication across languages. However, even with an experienced translator, translation errors can still occur. 

So, whether you are a translator or business owner who wants to check the quality of translation, here are the top 9 document translation errors that you should be aware of. By avoiding these mistakes, you can ensure your translated documents accurately convey your intended message.

#1. Top Document Translation Errors: Translating Verbatim

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Translating verbatim, or word-for-word, is one of the most common document translation errors. It is the practice of translating the source text without considering context, idiomatic expressions, and cultural nuances, resulting in a poorly translated document that is often difficult to understand or even meaningless.

For example, when translating idiomatic expressions such as ‘break a leg’ from English to another language, a word-for-word translation would not make sense in the target language. Thus, a more contextually relevant translation is necessary.

Another example is the translation of names, which may have different meanings in different cultures. For instance, the name “Amy” means “beloved” in Latin, but it means “friend” in French, and can mean “beauty” in Japanese.

To avoid this error, you need to understand the context of the text being translated and consider the intended audience. It is also important to work with a qualified and experienced document translation service provider who can provide a culturally appropriate and accurate translation. 

#2. Not Getting It Checked

Not getting your translated document checked by a professional proofreader or editor can lead to serious errors. Even the most skilled and experienced translators can make mistakes, so having a fresh set of eyes reviewing the document is crucial to catch any errors or inconsistencies that may have been overlooked.

To avoid this type of mistake, it is important to have a reliable and professional proofreading service review your translated documents before finalizing them. This can help ensure that your message is accurately conveyed and your intended audience can fully understand the content. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your document translation is error-free without double-checking it first.

#3. Not Paying Attention to Tonality

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Not paying attention to tonality is one of the regular document translation errors that can cause misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Tonality refers to the style and manner of expression, which can vary widely across different cultures and languages. 

For example, in English, it is common to use a polite and formal tone when addressing authority figures or in business settings. Meanwhile, some languages may use a more informal tone in similar situations.

Failure to consider tonality can result in inaccurate or inappropriate translations. For instance, translating a polite and formal email in English into a more casual and relaxed tone in another language can be seen as disrespectful or unprofessional. Similarly, a translation of a serious legal document with a humorous tone can result in a lack of credibility.

Therefore, you need to pay attention to the tone and style of the source text and ensure that it is accurately conveyed in the translation. This can be achieved through cultural sensitivity and a deep understanding of the target audience. By doing so, the translated document will be well-received and effectively achieve its intended purpose.

#4. Common Document Translation Errors: Not Understanding Humor

Humor is often culturally specific and can be challenging to translate accurately. What is considered funny in one language or culture may not be in another. A simple mistranslation of a joke can lead to confusion, offense, or even damage to business relationships.

For example, the phrase “that’s a real knee-slapper” may not make sense in some cultures where the gesture of slapping one’s knee to signify laughter is uncommon. 

To avoid this type of error, it is crucial to work with a translator/language service provider who has a deep understanding of both the source and target languages’ cultural nuances and can accurately convey the intended humor or tone. It is best to review translations with a native speaker or cultural expert to ensure the humor is appropriate and translated correctly.

#5. The Problem Of Slang And Colloquialisms

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The use of slang and colloquialisms can be a major problem when it comes to document translation. Slang is an informal language that is specific to a certain region or social group, which can be difficult to understand for those who are not familiar with it. 

On the other hand, colloquialisms are words or phrases that are commonly used in everyday conversation, but may not be appropriate in a formal or professional setting.

When translating documents, you need to be aware of slang and colloquialisms and avoid using them in the translated text. Instead, you should use standard, formal language that is appropriate for the intended audience.

For example, in English, the word “cool” can be used to describe something fashionable or popular. However, this word may not have the same meaning in other languages or cultures, so using it in a translated document could result in confusion or misunderstanding.

Another example is the use of regional expressions, such as “y’all” in southern US English. While it may be commonly used in everyday conversation, it is not appropriate in a professional or formal context and should be avoided in translated documents.

#6. Treating All Numbers As The Same

Treating all numbers as the same is another common document translation error that can cause serious problems, such as financial or legal disputes. 

In some languages, the way numbers are written or spoken can vary depending on the context or the quantity being described. Failing to handle these nuances can lead to inaccuracies or misinterpretations.

For example, English speakers use commas to separate groups of three digits in large numbers, such as 1,000,000. However, in French and Spanish, they use periods instead. 

To avoid this error, it is important to understand the number system of the source and target languages, as well as any cultural or contextual implications that may affect the way numbers are used. You should also double-check all numerical data in the translation to ensure that it is accurate and consistent with the original document.

#7. Common Document Translation Errors: Ignoring Grammatical Structures

Ignoring grammatical structures is one of the most typical document translation errors that can significantly impact the meaning of the translated text. Grammatical structures differ among languages, and a direct translation without considering these structures can lead to a mistranslation.

For example, the subject usually comes before the verb in a sentence in English. However, in Japanese, the verb comes at the end of the sentence. If a translator were to translate a Japanese sentence into English while maintaining the original structure, it would lead to a grammatically incorrect sentence.

Ignoring grammatical structures can also lead to awkward phrasing and confusing sentences. Therefore, it is essential to have a document translation service provider who understands the grammatical structures of both the source and target languages to translate the text accordingly.

#8. Not Paying Attention To Gender

Not paying attention to gender is a familiar document translation error that can lead to misunderstandings, confusion, and even offense. 

In some languages like Spanish, French, and German, gender is an integral part of the language and affects the form of nouns, adjectives, and verbs. As an example, in Spanish, the word “amigo” means “friend” and is masculine, while “amiga” means “female friend” and is feminine. If a document is translated from Spanish to English and the translator uses the wrong gender for a noun, such as “amigo” instead of “amiga,” it can confuse the gender of the person being referred to.

To avoid this error, you should be aware of the gender rules in the language you are translating from and to. Also, you should be familiar with the gender-neutral language and use it where appropriate to avoid assumptions about the gender of the person being referred to.

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#9. File Formats

File formats play an important role in document translation. Failing to consider the file format can lead to various issues, including formatting errors, misplaced content, and overall poor readability. This is particularly true when dealing with complex file formats such as PDFs or images.

For example, when working with PDFs, it is important to ensure that the text is not saved as an image. Translating a PDF with images of text can result in errors, as translation software cannot read text from an image. Additionally, certain file formats may not be compatible with certain translation software or tools, leading to further errors or complications.

To avoid these errors, you should consider the file format of the original document and the translated document. Ensure that the formatting is maintained and that the content is properly translated. It may also be necessary to convert the file format to one that is more easily translatable or compatible with translation tools. 


Document translation errors can have serious consequences, including legal issues, financial loss, and damage to a company’s reputation. To avoid the above common errors, you should work with a reliable language service provider who can provide high-quality document translation service and ensure that the final product is accurate and culturally appropriate. 

If you are looking for such a provider, consider GTE Localize, a trustworthy language service provider recommended by GoodFirms

Here are some of the reasons why GTE Localize is a top-rated provider in the translation industry:

  • 100% Native Translators: We have over 1200 skilled native translators who are certified and experienced in various industries, ensuring high-quality document translation services.
  • Lifetime Warranty Policy: We offer a lifetime warranty for our document translation services thanks to our team of qualified translators and the latest technology in the translation and localization industry. This guarantee applies to all content translated and localized by us, regardless of service, deadline, or price.
  • Cost-effective Services: By leveraging technology in our procedures such as Translation Memory and CAT tools, we streamline our work processes and reduce costs for our clients. Every dollar spent with us is maximized.

By partnering with a reputable translation agency like GTE Localize, you can ensure that your document translations are error-free and meet the highest standards of quality.

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