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8 translation errors and how to solve them

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‘Men’s luggage space’, ‘drug strap’ and ‘die-cast’… not sure what I’m talking about? Me neither. That’s because those very literal translations were just some of the thousands of translation errors that appeared on Amazon’s website when they launched in Sweden

Whilst it’s all very well laughing at a big brand failure, if it happens to them, it can certainly happen to us all, and it’s certainly not so funny when you’re on the receiving end. Not only do you risk offending your new customer base, but you also risk ruining your brand reputation. 

When you’re starting a website translation project, there will naturally always be several problems you or your translators will encounter. Being prepared means you can avoid some of the common mistakes and launch in new markets faster.

So, we’ve identified 8 common translation errors that could play havoc with your website translation project – let’s take a closer look at them and more importantly, how to solve them!

#1 Missing translations 

You probably wouldn’t be off to a good start if you’ve failed to identify all the content on your website for translation. Leaving out parts of your website from translation can lead to several problems. 

Firstly, it looks messy having certain content translated and other words/ phrases or pages left in the original language. 

Secondly, it’s not very professional and allows your website visitor to see that you’re not that local brand they thought you were. 

And, lastly, it’s not good for your multilingual SEO to have several languages on the same page – it means search engines will struggle to know what language to rank your site for. 

Solution

Using a website translation software that detects all the content on your website means you don’t need to rely on humans to carry out this laborious task which can naturally lead to some form of human error. 

Just think about that landing page the marketing team forgot to list as a page, not in the main menu, or a sign-up form. 

And, if you don’t want certain pages of your website translated for certain markets, then URL exclusion is your best friend. 

exclude url from translation

#2 Multiple meanings 

Words can have multiple meanings in different languages and this can lead to some unforgivable mistakes appearing on your brand website. Whether you’re using machine translation or human translators, errors can happen. 

It can simply be down to the machine translation engine not understanding the multiple meanings of the words in the sentence, or even from a human error side, a misread sentence. 

We can easily see this frequently in English, for example:

  • My sister can run very fast. 
  • My car is old, but it runs well. 

Words that are spelled the same but have different meanings can catch even the most diligent translator out. 

Solution

Use bilingual teammates or a second translator to proofread the copy of your website after the first translations have been carried out, that way both machine or human translation has been through a second round of proofreading. 

#3 Translating word by word 

When people gasp at the prospect of using machine translation as a viable option when it comes to website translation, they often don’t understand how these engines actually work. 

Rather than translate word by word (which was once the case), machine translation providers use algorithms to teach themselves how to recognize the most natural word-phrase combinations for each language. 

This type of translation builds on language that real people have already said or written and uses algorithms to teach itself the most natural word and phrase combos for different language pairs. 

Of course, this is true mainly for more commonly spoken languages purely down to the fact that machines have more text to learn from. 

Human translators can still make mistakes here too. Languages have huge differences in terms of sentence structure, placement of the adjective, verb rules, and so on. When translating in verbatim, sentences can end up not meaning anything close to the original. 

A great example of this is HSBC where their catchphrase “Assume Nothing” was taken literally and mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in multiple markets – not exactly the energy they were going for when it comes to deciding where to bank with! 

Solution 

Machine translation can be great in translating a sentence by structure, not word-for-word. Bringing in a human translator to ensure everything is as it should be given extra assurance that your website copy is reading how it should be.

#4 Forgetting language nuances  

There are dozens of languages that are spoken in more than one country around the world and many of them have specific cultural nuances. 

Take Spanish for example, it’s important that the translator knows who the target audience is. Is it Spain, Bolivia, Argentina…the list goes on. Each country has specific cultural and language nuances that play a big part in getting the right message to your new target audience. 

We’ve spoken about this recently when we launched our custom language feature, but even if Spanish speakers from Spain and Spanish speakers from Mexico for example on the surface speak the same language, they use different vocabulary, grammar and cultural expressions. 

It means you need to look at the countries you’re targeting rather than just the language. Ensuring your translator knows the specific market means you’ll get the right translations delivered. 

Solution 

Ensure your translator knows your intended market and make use of Weglot’s new custom language feature. 

#5 No glossary 

A glossary is a really useful part of translating a website. It keeps your translations consistent – especially useful if you’re translating into several languages so have several translators working on the task. 

It also means you’re not translating the same word multiple times or you might have specific terminology that the translator needs to know should be translated a specific way, or brand/ product names or even down to specifics like you’d rather use the formal use of ‘you’. 

Once you’re set on terminology or tone of voice, it’s important to stick to that across your site which is why a glossary ensures all of these specifics are consistent. 

Solution 

Create your own glossary of terms that can be shared internally and externally with your translation team or agency. 

Weglot has a built-in glossary feature which you can manually add to or import/ export your own list of terms. 

Weglot glossary

#6 Ignoring the style guide 

Every business has a specific way they like to be perceived such as whether you are more informal or formal, use metric or imperial, and how you display date formats etc. Much like a glossary, a style guide is what allows your translators to know how you ‘speak’ to your customers. 

Solution 

Send your style guide to your translator before they start your website translation project so they can get familiar with the tone and value proposition of your brand.

#7 Failing to translate links 

This one is definitely worth mentioning as a great form of localization, translating your links. 

Any link you’re referencing within your translated web copy should be going to the equivalent page in that language or a new external resource in the new target language (if there isn’t a translated version). 

This ensures the website visitor has a seamless experience and is directed to pages that they can also read and that add value to the website copy. 

Solution

Use Weglot’s external link filter within your Translations List to replace links and when it comes to your external links, unless you’ve excluded the URL from translation, Weglot automatically redirects to the translated version. 

translate external links

#8 Not reviewing translations 

At the end of a translation project it’s important to always do a final proofreading. Whether you’ve decided to translate through the import/ export process or the Translations List view – you’ll want to see those words on your website on the pages where they are supposed to be and in the context of the page. At this stage, translators will be able to spot any inconsistencies. 

Often, translators are translating out of context and whilst the sentence might make sense, putting it together on the page won’t always flow the way it was intended. 

This can also link back to our point about words having multiple meanings, perhaps a mistranslation has occurred, and seeing the full picture will right that wrong. 

Solution 

Make use of Weglot’s in-context visual editor to see your translations in a live preview of your website. 

Weglot visual editor

Seeing your translations in context and being able to make any adjustments in this view will ensure your translations are seamless. 

Summary 

As we’ve seen, there’s a lot to think about when starting out a website translation project. 

Multiple things can and may go wrong but with our list of 8 of the most common mistakes made, you’ll have a head start and know exactly what to look out for! 

And, don’t forget, the words on your website are just half the battle when it comes to a website translation project. Try Weglot for 10-days for free to see how you can combine machine translation, professional translators and the technical side of website translation. 

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