Vietnamese – English translation projects: potential traps and tips to manage

Two months ago, we were assigned an interesting Vietnamese to English project by a well-known LSP. The end-client is a very well-known brand. The volume was more than 100k words. Certainly this is not the first Vietnamese-English project we have done. However, due to its uniqueness, it could be a very good example of how Vietnamese source text may challenge your linguists.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the project background. Unlike other common projects having large volumes of text referring to a single subject matter, in this project, the end-client has spidered the web and randomly pulled sentences from hundreds and thousands of web sites. So, the content could be a segment from a newspaper, twitter feed, blog, technical document, hotel page, user manual, forums, Terms & Conditions …

Let’s just say, if it is on the web our client may have pulled it. They have then provided us with all these random segments and want us to translate them. Consequently, no two segments will follow in context. Every segment is a new sentence and is independent from others. The quality requirements were very high, 2 LQA rounds would be performed during the production and translators must be English native speakers to ensure smooth and natural translated texts.

You may ask what the point is and that is a good question as we had to double check as well. The whole task is part of a huge R&D (Research & Development) project funded by one of the world’s largest enterprises. The purpose is to feed analytical data into a machine to train it like how a human linguist would translate these random sentences. Right after the project kick-o, we get our native English translators to work on around 300 rst segments as an initial sample work. And not wait until our client’s rst LQA, we carried out an internal assessment on those rst translations. Unfortunately, the quality was not up to our standard. The main causes of the sub-standard quality were analyzed and then listed out. And they’re potential traps that you may encounter as well in any of your Vietnamese English projects:


  1. In Vietnamese, there’re many homographs, or words spelled the same, pronounced the same but having different meanings and origins. Leaving those words alone, we, as native Vietnamese speakers, just can’t tell which is which. If there’s a short context, such as a sentence or a phrase, we can “sense” it with our native tongue. But normally it’s not the case for native English speakers.
  2. Compound words, which make up a big portion of Vietnamese language, is the second culprit. Compound words does exist in English as well. But in English, commonly two words or more are joined together without any extra symbol/space to create a new meaning (rey, softball, redhead, keyboard, makeup, notebook), or joined together by a hyphen (daughter-in-law, over-the-counter, six-year-old). In Vietnamese, all compound words are in open form. It means that there is no hyphen in between and those compound words look perfectly like two or three single meaningful words. Consequently, understanding of the translator on the source text could be dramatically aected and confusion could happen anytime.
  3. Slang which is more typical for this R&D project, should be listed anyway. For slang, of course it requires translators to have a high level of exposure to informal contexts. If translators only have experience with technical domains, they fail without doubt.
  4. Sentences with no standard structure: this is a typical trait of Vietnamese language in general. Vietnamese language obviously has a grammatical structure. However, a lot of sentences can be understood well without any standard structure. This happens mostly in spoken language or informal conversations. Again, the “native Vietnamese” factor determines if a sentence without standard structure could be understood correctly or not.

So we were in a dilemma: if the native English translators do the translation, then very likely they will not understand the source Vietnamese text correctly, which leads to severe mistranslation. But if we use native Vietnamese translators, a smooth and natural translated English text can’t be guaranteed. Equally important, it is against the project’s policy to use native English translators.


  1. We still let a native English translator to do translation in the rst round.
  2. Then a native Vietnamese reviewer will perform a review round. Please note it is review but not revise. Our Vietnamese reviewers will check if the translation is correct to the source Vietnamese text. If they detect any error or potential error, the English native translator will be notied. Most of the time, the reviewer helps to explain how the source Vietnamese text should be best understood. Low-level errors such as punctuation or spelling are checked during this round as well.
  3. The translator implements changes where necessary. Overall, translated texts are never touched by the Vietnamese reviewer, and always nalized by the English translator. All the process can be done easily on a bilingual review Word le exported from Trados Studio. This simple solution worked beautifully! We passed both two LQA rounds by client with score 96/100 and 98/100 respectively. Conclusion: traps are always there, but if you deeply understand the language you’re working with, everything would become pretty much simpler. Would you agree?

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