Category Archives: translation errors

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Do we actually know what a literal translation is?

We decided to write a post about literal translation because we have noticed that many people are confused about it.

We often say that translators are language creators working with meaning, not with words, that sometimes clients expect you to deliver something that is completely different from the source language. I am afraid that, although this sometimes happens, it does so much more often in the translation of poems and other literature works, than in technical translation or localization.

Literal translation may sometimes be used in legal contexts, where the client wants to know, word by word, what the text is saying.

But there are literal translations that are indeed wrong.

When a literal translation is not valid is when you translate word by word and do not take into account context, culture or other references. For example:

It’s raining cats and dogs.

This is a widely known English expression whose origin is still unknown, and which means that it is raining very heavily.

Translating it into Spanish as Está lloviendo perros y gatos would be a literal translation that is wrong, as it is a word by word translation that makes no sense in the target language, and there is actually an expression in this language that has the same meaning, Está lloviendo a cántaros (cántaro means jug, hence the metaphor, since a jug can contain a big quantity of water.)

However, if you have a text like:

“We use the latest technology to provide the best service to our clients.”, you may translate it in several ways, but it will always make you think of the source text:

Usamos la última tecnología para ofrecer el mejor servicio a nuestros clientes.

Usamos la tecnología más avanzada para ofrecer el mejor servicio a nuestros clientes.

Gracias al uso de la tecnología de última generación, podemos ofrecer el mejor servicio a nuestros clientes.

Are these translations wrong? Of course not, but there are sentences whose structure, context and meaning are the same in both languages.

guidebooks-1425706-1920x1440We like creativity, but there are times when the text does not allow for much creativity, and that does not mean that it is a literal translation, or that it is wrong. Besides, getting too far from the source may lead to a wrong translation, so be careful with creativity.

We hope this helps you to better understand what literal translations are and when you can put a claim to your translator provider because you are not happy with the translation.

Remember that at Jensen Localization we can help you reviewing translations done by other translators, do not hesitate to contact us for further information.

When ‘No’ doesn’t exactly Mean ‘No’

Our colleague Magnus, native Swedish speaker, sent us this picture from an automatic teller machine in Spain:

Translation error in automatic teller machine.

The quality is not very good, and we have removed sensitive data (and of course the name of the Bank), but some of you will spot the error easily.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Swedish grammar, here is the explanation:

We all know how to withdraw cash from these machines, don’t we? If we want to continue with the operation, we press Yes (Ja in Swedish). And if we do not want to continue with such operation, we press No, which should be Nej in Swedish. However, as you can see in the picture, it reads Inte, which means Not (the particle used to build negative sentences in Swedish).

This is a very common error in companies that prefer to take shortcuts in their international communication strategy. First impressions are very important, and this apparently tiny error can prevent this bank from getting a client. It does not prevent you from withdrawing money but, would you trust a bigger operation in a bank that does not give you accurate information in your language?

Oral, written and visual communication are extremely important for companies, no matter if they are an international bank or a small shop in a tourist area. The way you communicate things will define the way your clients and potentials will perceive the services you are offering them, and approaching them in their language will make them feel at ease and make a step in the so difficult world of getting and engaging clients.

If you want to know how we can help you to go global and break language barriers thanks to translation, do not hesitate to contact us.


Why is the Testing Phase so Important?

We should better start this post by explaining why companies usually skip the testing phase. To put it simple, our first reply would be simply to save money.

However, after talking to clients we have noticed that it is usually due to ignorance of the testing phase.

The testing phase is an important phase in order to consider a localization project as finished.

Testing is done both in software and websites, and briefly explained, it consists in the comparison of the source and target software/website to make sure that the layout and functionality are the same.

During the testing phase, no translation errors should appear. However, even if the text has been reviewed before compiling the software or building the website, it is during the testing phase when translators can really see the text in context, so some adjustments may still be made to the translation.

Also, when changing from one language to another, the text can expand or can collapse, and this will also affect the layout of the software/website. Clients do not always send us their string limits, so it is not until the testing phase when we can see if the translation actually fits in the space provided.

In the example below you can see typical errors that you can find in a website testing.

Source Website


Target Website. We asked the web developer to enter some errors on purpose. In a web testing project, the comments in red are the ones the translator would enter in the testing bug report.

Testing errors 2

In some cases, clients decide to do the testing phase themselves. However, we advise you not to do that. Just a pair of reasons to support this statement:

  1. In the case of string shortening, a translator knows some kind of ‘default’ string abbreviations that can be used to shorten a string without affecting the meaning. People who are not in the Localization industry tend to shorten strings without any compassion for grammar or spelling to a level that is totally illegible for the target reader.
  2. Translation companies save all translations in a translation memory, which enables them to reuse the translated content to keep consistency between different versions of the same product. If the testing phase is done on the client side, the translation company will not have access to the most updated files. In the event of spelling mistakes or terminology changes, if the translation files have not been updated with such changes after the testing period, the same errors will appear in subsequent versions of the product, which will lead to extra time and costs.

Unless you have your own localization department, where you use the same translation tools as your language service provider, we advise you to leave the testing phase in their hands, so that you can receive a final translated product and make sure everything will be ready to be reused in the future.

I hope this post helped you to learn more about the testing phase. If you need further information, do not hesitate to contact us.

Related posts:

Compilation of poor translations

If you follow us on any of our social networks you know that we often post links to articles about funny translation mistakes and translations gone wrong.

In this article we have compiled a bunch of these links to share with you and get more in depth of the consequences of the different mistakes and why they might have happened.

As we have many Spanish readers, we have included some links for them too. Let us take a look.

The summer is here and many of you are probably planning your vacation or may be even on vacation as you are reading this. In this first article you can find and learn tips on how to avoid holiday translation errors if you use one of these online translation tools that are currently available as mobile apps, for example.

The weather is getting warmer and warmer, but I have personally never heard about the term Goat heat. Here in this example you can see French into English translation mistakes in restaurant menus. Unfortunately, this happens more often than we imagine.

I know, many of you are guilty, including myself of using online translation tools to translate something quickly. If you use these tools to translate either a sentence, or worse, a whole document, you need to be aware of the possible mistakes that might turn out in your end result. At Jensen Localization we are not against the use of Machine Translation, but against the wrong use of this technology. If you want to use MT, make sure that you at least proofread it. In this next article you will find some rather embarrassing translation mistakes and you will learn even more about the importance of proofreading your texts before publishing them.

For our Spanish readers, here are a few examples of signs translations from English into Spanish.

 Translation error

This is a photo from a Starbucks sign translated from English into Spanish.

The sign is supposed to say Exit only in Spanish, but Éxito Aquí means Succes here. Now come on Starbucks, it shouldn’t be that hard to translate such a small sentence. The correct translation would be Sólo salida.

Some mistakes are funny and smaller such as the example mentioned above, but some are definitely more serious. Such as Spanish clothing company Mango and their French translation issue, that translated the name of a piece of jewelry into French, but did not get the best response (article in Spanish).

Even though the mistakes might be fairly “small”, the consequences can be very serious. Here are 9 little translation mistakes that caused big problems.

Let us go back in time. Here is a list of the top 5 translation mistakes of 2012.

We have now looked at some mistakes, but what are the causes of the translation mistakes? Can you guess why these translation errors happened?

We will try to have a guess of the main reasons why translation mistakes happen. The first, most obvious reason is that people use machine translation. Machine translation does have its benefits if you want an instant translation of something short and just want an overall understanding of something. But for your business this is not the best way, not to mention the bad effect on your SEO strategy if you use MT for your website. Other reasons can be wrong spelling or errors in the source text  from the beginning. Last but not least, often companies use people who are not actual translators, but might talk fluently in the target language, which is obviously not enough if you want high quality translations. Use professionals and the result will be professional.

We have previously written about some examples of poor translations on our blog. If you are interested in seeing some funny and some horrible translations, please have a look.

We hope this article made you laugh, and even more importantly made you aware of the importance of high quality translations and the consequences of choosing the easy way.

Summary of 2012

Happy New Year!

2012 has been a very busy year both at Jensen Localization and on our blog. During the year we have tried to keep you updated on our activities as a company, but also on interesting news and articles about Language, Translation and Localization.

As you also know, our blog has been moved recently from Blogger to WordPress, and we will soon have it in our usual domain

Until then, follow us on

We wanted that our first article of 2013 was a summary of 2012, so you can have a quick overview of the most important articles that you can find in our blog.

Would you like to learn about our company, events attended and events held by us? Search items under the category ‘Events’.

Would you like to learn about translation and localization? Search items under the categories ‘Translation’ or ‘localization’.

Are you interested in Machine Translation? You can also find some articles on this topic, just look under the category ‘Machine Translation’.

As you know, Jensen Localization publishes a daily newspaper on Twitter called Language and Technology News Daily. Sometimes we recommend some of the articles in our blog. If you want to know the ones recommended on 2012, just look for them under the category ‘News’. As indicated in these articles, if you want to find them in our newspaper, you just have to go to the Archives section and choose the newspaper of the specific day.

Would you like to have fun with translation? Have a look at the articles about translation errors under the category ‘errors’.

Of course, these searches will not only show you articles published on 2012, but all articles under that category that were published since the creation of our blog. And these are not all the categories you can find in our blog, feel free to navigate through all of them!

If you would like to learn the basics of localization, we invite you to download our Starting Guide to Localization. Click on the link to request your free copy!

We hope you find our content interesting. If you would like us to elaborate on a specific topic, just add your suggestions to the Comments section or contact us!

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