What are the most common translation slip-ups and how can they be avoided? 


We’ve all seen the amusingly translated menu description that puts you off ordering a particularly gruesome-sounding dish, or the shop sign confusing customers such as the following submitted as a part of the Lonely Planet Guidebook’s Lost in Translation competition:



With Google Translate and Reverso online translation tools dominating the Internet, it is tempting to think that a non-native speaker can now create all of their own translations and bypass a real-live translator.

Certainly, for the main meaning, many online tools do provide a basic translation. However, when sentence structures become complex, or the meaning is imprecise, they fall down spectacularly.

Look at this example of a complex British English from Google Translate.

ENGLISH: We are on a sticky wicket here. Lit: this is a difficult situation

CHINESE: 我们在这里是一个粘性的检票口

The reverse translation of this Chinese statement into English gives us:

We are here a sticky ticket gate – I am sure that you can see that this is complete nonsense.

So here is a list of how to avoid making embarrassing mistakes that can cost your business time, money and a potential loss of reputation. With technical translation, patent translation or medical translation such errors can obviously be extremely costly for businesses but also have serious consequences for users of machinery or medical devices.

Nine Translation Do’s and Don’ts


  • l  Do it yourself unless you are fluent in both languages and know the subject matter.
  • l  Use a machine translation service
  • l  Use previously translated material that has been edited
  • l  Choose the cheapest translator



  • l  Let the translator know what the document will be used for
  • l  Provide all of the project details to the translator
  • l  Agree on the quality criteria
  • l  Plan the project carefully
  • l  Use plain English in all communication with the translator and in the final English translation