9 Favourite Mistakes by Spanish-English Translators on Our Translation Courses

Favourite Mistakes by Spanish-English translators on our translation courses article image

Written by Gwenydd Jones

Translator, translator trainer and copywriter

There are certain mistakes that Spanish-to-English translators make again and again. And that includes me. Some of them are down to us getting hypnotised by the source text. That’s what we’ll be looking at in this article. Here are 9 favourite mistakes made by trainees on our translation courses. How many of them do you make?

1. Consist in

In Spanish it’s “consistir en”. This seems so easy to translate that the translator writes “consist in” and then focuses their brain on the more challenging parts of the phrase. Of course, it should be “consist of”.

2. The + noun + of

The translators that work with me on my translation course probably get sick of hearing me bang on about this. The construction “the + noun + of” is very common in Spanish. We can carry it straight across into English, and it’s not wrong. But it can make the syntax very stiff.

Here’s an example from a business paper from the DipTrans exam: “Acumulación de todo tipo de stocks derivados de la implantación y organización de los procesos industriales”.

I often see this phrase translated into English as something along the lines of: “Accumulation of all types of stock derived from the implementation and management of industrial processes”.

If you turn that noun phrase into a gerund, the text flows better: “Accumulation of all types of stock derived from implementing and managing industrial processes”.

3. “The” obsession

If you’re interested enough in languages that you’re still reading this article then you probably already know that Spanish uses the definite article much more than English. On my translation course, translators will often write “the” more times than they need to.

Apart from being hypnotised by the Spanish, this happens because they’re not proofreading carefully enough. Read this article on Proofreading Mistakes made by trainees on our CertTrans and DipTrans translation courses for help with proofreading.

Here’s an example from a translation of a general DipTrans paper: “Far from feeding self-esteem, the politicians do not hold back when it comes to tearing their rivals apart”.  

Spanish-English #translators, do you have a "the" obsession? Read this. #DipTrans Click To Tweet

 We’re more likely to spot strange collocations when we read our translations as stand-alone texts.

4. Putting a comma between subject and verb

I sometimes see Spanish writers placing a comma between a long subject phrase and its verb. If you copy this over into your English translation, you’ll confuse the reader. Here’s an example of my own making: any DipTrans candidate who blindly copies Spanish punctuation, is asking for the examiner’s wrath.

5. Awkward collocations

This is where the translator can’t quite put their finger on what they want to say. They place two or more terms together that nearly work, but don’t.

For instance, some examples taken from the literature option in the DipTrans: “Hacía uso de él a mi antojo”. Translated: “I was allowed to use it at my pleasure”. That is a delightful mixture between “at my leisure” and “as I pleased”.

Another example, this time from a general paper: “El lenguaje sencillo y directo ha desaparecido”, translated as “simple and direct vocabulary has passed away”. But people pass away, not words.

It may seem obvious, but translators miss this error all the time. It can be resolved by the translator looking for this problem at the editing stage. This is because we’re more likely to spot strange collocations when we read our translations as stand-alone texts.

Check out our recommendations for Spanish-English bilingual dictionaries.

Favourite mistake 5. Awkward collocations. How many of these Spanish-English #translation mistakes do you make? #DipTrans Click To Tweet

6. Sneaking into legalese

On my translation course, I see this issue in more academic texts, typically in the social-science and business papers. The original writer has used expressions like “dicho” (said) or “tal” (such), which sound like legalese when they’re translated directly into English.

For instance: “La ocupación lombarda desmantela dicha organización”. (“Dicha” refers to the Byzantine empire, mentioned in the sentence before). An example translation: “The Lombard occupation dismantled the said society”. In case like this, “that” would work as a solution, and make the reader like you better.

The translators aren’t proofreading carefully enough.

7. Odd possessives

This type of hypnotism is also rooted in the Spanish “el + noun + de” construction. Here’s a tough example from a general DipTrans exam paper: “Aunque sea a coste de poner el futuro en juego de todos”. It was translated: “Even if means putting the future of everyone at risk”. Okay, we know what you mean, but “everyone’s future” is the usual way of saying it.

8. Not identifying in-text glosses by the source writer

I’ve observed that Spanish writers are using an increasing number of English words in their texts, particularly in the business arena. Sometimes the words have the same meaning in English and sometimes the Spanish user is giving it a new meaning that never existed in English.

You see this sometimes in the DipTrans exam. The source writer uses an English term and then follows it with a translation into Spanish, to explain the term to their Spanish reader (an in-text gloss).

In the translation into English, this becomes redundant because the new target reader, an English speaker, will have understood the term the first time it was mentioned. This means that the into-English translator can leave the gloss out of their translation.

9. Using present simple when present continuous is needed

Spanish will sometime use the present simple to express something that is currently happening. An example can be found in the test translation that I give to Spanish-to-English translators that are thinking about doing my translation course: “La iniciativa parte de la cadena hotelera española NH, que busca a 30 personas realmente estresadas”.

In this example, “busca” is in the present simple. But it’s taken from a newspaper article that’s reporting on something that is happening at the time of writing. The English translation would need to express this by using the present continuous.

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