Some of our clients are fluent in the languages into which they wish us to translate. As we’ve discussed before there are many reasons why bilingual staff should not translate, but it can often be useful for clients familiar with the language and target audience to review the translation to catch any mistakes or preferences not taken into account.

What is a Translation Error?

When reviewing translation, it is essential to first understand the difference between a preference choice and an error. A translation error is a grammatical or spelling mistake or an incorrect word choice given the original words’ meaning or the document’s target audience. A preference choice is a word that the client prefers over others. For example, the words “contract” or “agreement” can both be translated into Spanish as either “contrato” or “acuerdo”. Neither is necessarily wrong; it is a matter of preference. At AZ World we always strive to determine and then act in accordance with our client’s preferences. But keep in mind that translators are not mind readers, without prior instruction translators can only translate with industry standard terminology that may differ from the clients preference. The basis of preferences can be personal, or based on important business considerations. For that reason different editors can prefer different terms and different departments within the same company can prefer different terms. Of course, if a preference was stated and then not taken into account, it is treated as an error.

Take for example, the French word, “camion” which refers to a truck. It would be a simple translation error if it was translated as “bus.” If it was presented as “truock” that would be a spelling error. If it was translated as “truck” when the target audience was known to be in the United Kingdom, then it would be a translation error, as “lorry” is the preferred term in the United Kingdom. This is where it is important that the person reviewing is not only fluent in the language, but also familiar with the target audience. A regional difference in language can also be mistaken as a glaring error. Consider that for the English word “computer” the preferred translation into Spanish will be “computadora” in Latin America (while it varies in some countries to “computador”) and “ordenador” in Spain. “Computer” can even be translated as “equipo” (which means device) as a neutral term and also in order to avoid repetitive and awkward text.

Remember that as it is a translator’s duty to always create a faithful representation of the source text; documents with awkward and or poorly written language may result in translations that also sound awkward. One example of this would be a Safety Incident Report written by South American miners, where the language and grammar can be very simple. In such cases a translation full of rich words would be inaccurate. However, AZ World is happy and available to improve the text’s flow and tone if the client requests it.

Five Simple Guidelines for Reviewing Translations

1. Before doing any editing, make sure you read through the entire document first. Many “errors” are often word choices that make more sense when the context of the entire document is known.

2. Universal “find and replace” changes should be avoided as much as possible. The translator typically has good reason for the word choice. You should check other instances of the word you wish to replace to ensure that your preferred word works in every context of the piece.

3. Provide an explanation for your choice. If it is a preferential change, there is no need to implement it, unless it is a standard term or expression within the company.

4. Do your research. Don’t go with something you think you remember being right. Both you and the translator are susceptible to the human error of being fairly sure of something without checking, only to be proven wrong. Avoid this by double checking the basis of your change.

5. Communicate your explanations and changes to the translator or project manager. Seeing the changes will help improve the quality of their future translations for that client. Getting the right translation for each client is an iterative process and feedback is essential to that process.

The Big Lesson

The reviewing process is often painful for both clients and translators. At AZ World we believe this is caused when translators and clients have different expectations of what translators will produce and what clients require. If followed, these guidelines can make reviewing a fruitful and enjoyable learning experience for both client and translator. Remember that the goal of reviewing a translation is not only to ensure that the translation at hand meets the needs of the client, but also to make sure that future translations are as effective as possible. If changes are explained and communicated, reviewing can become a great investment because it produces more effective and less costly translations in the future.

At AZ World, our goal is to let our clients’ work speak for itself… in any language. We are always happy to discuss preferences, build glossaries and terminology lists, and then edit according to our clients’ needs. This is all part of the process of creating the right translation for our clients.

If you are lost in translation and need help to bridge the language divide around the world, please contact us at or visit us at