We’ve all been there—staring at a Google Translate saying, “What in the world is this supposed to say?” A bad translation can lead to utter confusion and a total miscommunication of the original message. 

This problem grows even larger when whole documents have been translated this way, like an instruction manual or legal transcription. But, how can you be sure that this is just simply a bad translation?

Here are 5 helpful clues that you’re reading a bad translation:

1. Verbs and Subjects Aren’t Matching

In a short sentence, this is fairly easy to understand, such as “I doesn’t have any cats.” However, this becomes particularly important when you’re writing out instructions: “Replacing part A and B with C and D.” Ok, while I’m replacing them, what should I be doing? Help!

Making sure the verbs and the subjects agree in your translated sentence is a great first route to see if you’ve gotten a poor translation. 

2. Improper Terminology

This one can either make your translation sound entirely too formal or just make no sense at all. While we can call a “trashcan” a “trash receptacle” (albeit very formal!), it would be confusing to call it a “waste dispensary.” 

Sometimes, the sentence can just barely miss the mark, and it can make all the difference in the world. “Trash” and “waste” are certainly interchangeable, and “receptacle” and “dispensary” are, too. However, it is confusing to use them both!

3. Inappropriate Word Order

Yoda might be able to get away with it… ‘good order must translators stick.’ But awkward flow can lead to poor reading comprehension and potentially a total miscommunication of the original message.

If readers don’t quickly understand a sentence, they may be apt to skip over it to see if the rest of the paragraph will help the sentence make sense. This could mean that the audience will miss out on key details. Sentence flow and structure are very important for stories, articles, and conversations.

4. Wrong Prepositions

Of course, in languages such as Spanish, the preposition “it” may be improperly translated to “he” or “she.” Without an entire language lesson, it’s because nouns are feminine and masculine in Spanish and many other languages. 

This means “Tiene una boca grande” (“It has a big mouth”) might get translated to English as “He has a big mouth.” Geez—that was harsh, right? The original message was about a bottle, but now it sounds like we’re talking about the guy holding the bottle. 

5. Missed Target Audience 

If the target audience doesn’t understand the message, it might be because the document is not in the dialect they understand. You and I both understand English, so “Have you been asleep?” is a perfectly normal sentence. However, if I wake up and you’re asking me “Hath thou been asleep?”, I will probably giggle before answering. 

In fact, I will probably wonder if I woke up in the wrong era or in a costume party! A target audience can become much more nuanced than this, though. Your audience may not want a full humorous story about poor translations; they may want a simple list of commands to look for, such as “ensure the target audience is not missed.”

Avoid Bad Translations with Alamex

We hope that you’ve taken away some helpful tips on how to spot bad translations in your everyday life. When you hire Alamex for your translation services, we will ensure all this and more is proper, correct, and flows perfectly. 

We want you to communicate confidently through us. Check out what services we provide and shoot us a message if you see something you might need.