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Mistranslation: Reasons and Solutions

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In daily conversation, mistranslation might be something hilarious and trivial. However, in business context, it can lead to serious consequences and severe financial loss. A mistranslated word, especially in legal contracts, technology documents or medical instruction, can cost millions of dollars and even people’s lives. Accurate translation should not be underrated in any contexts and aspects of life. Here are the major reasons for mistranslation and the solutions to avoid it.

Assumptions

Even professional translators can sometimes misread the text. There are many reasons for that, one of which is known as “assumption”. In the language learning process, we naturally have assumptions about words and phrases, which then becomes an imprint in our mind. In other words, we instinctually attach meanings and usage to certain words and expressions. Therefore, when we see something familiar, our brain just provides the reference that we have always perceived.

Language is a dynamic and ever-changing concept. Moreover, the meaning of each word or phrase varies in different contexts. That is why our static assumptions can lead to mistranslation and make the audiences lost in translation as well.

Lack of cultural references

Language is the reflection of culture. In different countries, people have different ways to express the same thing. Language is also considered the written form of culture, which shows the inseparable relation between the two concepts. Thus, if we lack the knowledge about the culture related to the source or target language, we are more likely to produce a mistranslated document.

Studying about the source culture is a crucial step that helps us to successfully translate the words without changing the intended meanings.

Too much reliance on machine translation

It is undeniable that machine plays an important part in translation. With the computer aided tools, the job of a translator can be easier than ever. Some people even claim that they don’t need human translators anymore because they have the machine do the job. However, they are not aware of the fact that machine can only provide the acceptable translation which is not perfectly accurate and coherent.

Machine is just artificial intelligence, it cannot understand cultural aspects or distinguish the different usage of a word or phrase in certain contexts. Therefore, if we rely too much on machine and let it do all the translation, what we receive will definitely be a mistranslated document.

Solutions

The solutions to avoid mistranslation are simple, especially when we are totally aware of the causes. Firstly, we need to always be on guard against our own assumptions, consider the context carefully before translating the content. Secondly, enrich our knowledge by continuously learning about different cultures, especially the source one. Thirdly, use machine wisely and make it our helping hand, not our boss.  If we can do so, accurate translation is always in our hand.

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