Learn to Proofread: 10 Proofreading Mistakes by our Students

Last updated Jan 22, 2024
By Gwenydd Jones

Everyone makes mistakes. Yes. Have you ever tried telling a DipTrans examiner that? While lots of translators offer professional proofreading, few have ever taken the time to learn to proofread.

The teachers at The Translator’s Studio love working on proofreading with students on our CertTrans and DipTrans (what’s the difference?) online translation courses. Once they see where they’re going wrong, they improve quickly. Read on to find out how to be the professional proofreader every agency wants to work with.

A professional translator is a professional proofreader

It’s part of our job as translators to proofread our own work. But learning to proofread your own translations is challenging. Translators on our Diploma in Translation online course often struggle to do a good proofread under DipTrans exam conditions. But, with deadlines getting tighter by the day, professional translators face this type of pressure, too. 

Never fear. It’s possible to remove most, and even all, grammatical and punctuation errors from your own work. But you have to cultivate your ability to do it. The more importance you place on proofreading, the less likely it is that mistakes will escape your notice.

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Learning to proofread often gets forgotten in translator training

Translators who do our online translation courses have already mastered their source language. But few have studied the English language in depth. From the day we start school, English speakers receive limited training on the grammar and punctuation of our own language.

During my training as a linguist, and then as a translator, I was never taught how to proofread, or even how to punctuate professionally. Consequently, I didn’t realise my professional skills in this area were lacking until I began working as a translator. It was then that I found I was often unsure of how to punctuate my sentences. Also, when proofreading, I would sometimes miss obvious mistakes. And then blush when my customer pointed them out.

A good reason why advanced translation courses should include proofreading

In the latest updates to our CertTrans and DipTrans online courses, we’ve added materials to increase the focus on proofreading. This is because we’ve observed that trainees on our online translation courses make a lot of avoidable mistakes related to this area. The main problems are their knowledge of punctuation, and just not being careful enough. Check out our recommendations for the best punctuation books.

Proofreading is about seeing every tree in the forest.

It isn’t surprising. In the professional world, agencies don’t normally return corrected texts to the translator, so they can study them for their CPD. It would add to the project manager’s workload. Also, there is huge potential for time-consuming conflicts between translator and proofreader. And how many translators are going to take the time to go back and pour through the text once they’ve moved on to their next project?

Translation clients notice proofreading mistakes

While clients don’t mention mistakes, they take notice of them. The majority of translation agencies will likely pay up, and never call you again. Since translators are rarely told about their slip-ups, it’s up to us to teach ourselves to identify weaknesses in our writing. We have to continuously foster our ability to self-correct. High-quality translator training helps us do this.

How trainees on our online courses learn to be better proofreaders

1. They study English grammar and punctuation rules

Obvious, right? But googling grammar rules and reading punctuation books are activities we tend to put off for when we have more time. Which often ends up being never. This is a shame. Because, when we finally get down to it, linguists love these types of text. We enjoy reading them, and then use all we learn to impress (read: bore) anyone who will listen. On our DipTrans course, the personal feedback makes it faster for trainees to learn to identify and correct problems. There are also exercises to encourage them to find the time for some deeper study.

If you don’t want to go it alone, join our Punctuation Pro course, which will give you the motivation to finally assimilate all those punctuation rules through 30 short lessons over 30 days.

2. We talk about their doubts as they go

The piecemeal approach. When I realised that my proofreading skills weren’t up to scratch, I committed to looking up any doubts I had while I was working. I’ve now been doing that for 10 years, and so I’ve taken a lot on board. So, if you see that green squiggly line in Word, make sure you understand why it has appeared (and then see if you agree).

If the Spanish contains a semicolon and you don’t know if English needs one, take a few minutes to look up semicolon use. That way, you gain knowledge to help you proofread without even noticing it. More on the differences between Spanish and English punctuation.

WARNING: As you begin to pay more attention to punctuation and grammar, you’ll find your increased knowledge doesn’t always lead to clarity. In fact, you may come to doubt every piece of punctuation you include, or decide not to include, in your work. Congratulations! You’re now paranoid about your writing, which means you’re on the path to excellence, or madness. We can help!

3. We discuss style guides

If you think reading style guides sounds even more tedious than reading grammar books, you’re right. But a wonderful thing about reading a variety of style guides is that you realise that there isn’t one right answer. This discovery will give you more freedom as a writer.

We’ve observed that trainees on our online course make a lot of proofreading mistakes that are easy to avoid.

Once you know for a fact that there is more than one way of dealing with technical issues in your work, you’ll begin to place more trust in your own opinion. Developing your confidence in this area is helpful for sitting an exam like the Diploma in Translation. Because it means you make decisions faster.

4. They know proofreading practice makes perfect

Once you’ve digested the theory of proofreading, you need to cultivate your ability to read a text with the sole purpose of spotting the mistakes in it. This doesn’t come naturally. As readers, we try to extract information from a document, as quickly as possible. That way, we can be entertained by a story, learn from an expert or understand how to fill in a form. A proofreader’s goal is completely different to that of a normal reader. Proofreading is about seeing every tree in the forest. You have to force yourself to see every word and punctuation mark in the text, with a critical eye. 

When a child learns to read, they have no choice but to look at every letter, as they fight to identify words. Next, they have to look at every word, in their battle to get to the end of a sentence. Learning to read is a tedious process and the goal is to get faster, and scan. Eventually, we become so proficient at this that we forget how to see every component in a sentence. That means we can sometimes miss details. If you want to learn to proofread, it’s time to regress to your childhood: word, by word, by word.

10 proofreading mistakes made by trainees on our CertTrans and DipTrans online courses

1. Copying the source language punctuation. Languages have different rules.  

2. Not using commas in non-defining relative clauses.  

3. Not having the first clue about how to punctuate bullet points.  

4. Leaving double spaces in the text. This includes after full stops, where leaving double spaces is considered old fashioned. You can run a search on two spaces using Find and Replace.  

5. Not knowing how to punctuate dialogue.  

6. Using inverted commas where they aren’t needed.  

7. Leaving out prepositions (and other short words) because they didn’t proofread carefully enough and so they didn’t notice they were missing.  

8. A general lack of commas.  

9. Misuse and miswriting of ellipses and/or suspension points.  

10. Leaving “the the” in the text. Spellcheck should tell you. But, just in case, use Find and Replace to double check you haven’t missed this embarrassing error.

Be a successful proofreader with our professional punctuation course

Learning to proofread means learning to punctuate. We have that covered for you. Check out the course here!

Written by Gwenydd Jones

Gwenydd Jones is a Spanish- and French-to-English translator, an SEO blogger and a course creator. She is the founder of The Translator's Studio and the lead teacher on its courses. Connect with Gwenydd on LinkedIn or contact her through this website.

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