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How Mistakes Occur

Here is a list of some common errors made by automated translations and by inexperienced translators. Although specific to French/English many of these errors apply to other languages as well.

Faux amis (False friends)
Refers to words spelled similarly, in two languages but with different meanings. For example, 'actuel' in French could easily but mistakenly be translated to 'actual,' in English. In French however 'actuel' means 'current'. 

Faux Sens (Wrong meaning for the context)

Some words have multiple meanings and so a translator needs to understand the context before deciding which meaning fits. For example the French word 'important' can be translated as either 'important' or 'large' A 'une population importante' could be translated as 'an important population', or a ‘large population’. 'Fatale' in French can mean ‘fatal’ but it can also mean ‘inevitable’. The meaning and intent of the text is critical when you have multiple meanings for the same word.  

Nonsens (No sense)

These errors typically occur when machine translators or inexperienced translators try to translate expressions literally. For example, the French expression ‘J’ai le cafard’ means ‘I’m feeling a little down’. The literal translation into English however is ‘I have the cockroach’.

Contresens (Opposite meaning)

Similar to faux amis but a more serious error, a contresens translation occurs when a word or sentence is mistranslated and expresses the opposite meaning. For example, ‘to support someone’ in English implies taking care of someone. In French ‘support’ means to ‘put up with someone’. ‘Je support ta famille' could be mistranslated as ‘I support your family’ when it actually means ‘I put up with your family'.

Style confusion

More obscure than the others, translation loss can occur when some aspect of style (voice, tone, register) is missed in the translation. It is not necessarily inaccurate, but it does not convey all the information of the original text. For example, the medical event ‘stroke’ can be translated to ‘AVC’ or ‘accident vasculaire cerebral’. Choosing one or the other should reflect the register of the original. Using a more formal, or informal equivalent word may not retain the same character as the original and may not sound cohesive with the rest of the text.

Syntax errors

Word order and verb tenses are just a few of the differences between French and English. These mistakes typically occur when the grammar of one language is incorrectly applied to the other language.


Omission errors

Errors occur when words or phrases have not been translated, for whatever reason. A translator may not understand, or may simply have missed part of the text. This can be a serious error as information is missing.


Abbreviation errors

A particular problem arises when the translator has to deal with abbreviations, which is often the case in medical translations. In many cases, there are several possible abbreviations for the same term.


Units of measurement errors:

Numbers and decimals are expressed differently in French and English, e.g. 1,7 vs 1.7. This can also vary by country. Conventional units of measurement can vary as well. Blood pressure can be measured in mm, cm, Pa.. and can be expressed as 2 numbers or as a single number. 

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