Latest News

8 common mistakes companies make when dealing with translations

8 major mistakes that almost all companies make when they are in need of a translation for the first time. Translation mistakes are common but avoidable! How to avoid making mistakes when working with translation? That path is bumpy, time-consuming and stressful. So before you make any snap decisions, check out these steps and make sure you don’t slip down the same slope as many others did before you.

We have compiled 8 major mistakes in chronological order that almost all companies make when they are in need of a translation for the first time.

Our  experience show that once small or mid-sized companies have a translation task to arrange, most of them go down the same well-trodden path. That path is bumpy, time-consuming and stressful.

Even companies like COCA-COLA when entering China suffered from the translation disasters.


Translation Mistake 1. Transferring a task to your staff

You are a manager and you have a text/brochure/catalog or even a website  to translate, and usually the first thing you will do is scan the office to see who could be up to the job:

  •   the administrator, who handles most random tasks;
  •   the sales guys, who are supposed to have a wicked way with words;
  •   and even the engineering team, which stands behind the product itself

Whichever one you choose, you decide to have the translation done in-house.

This means that the staff will have to take some of their own time to translate these texts, i.e. do something out of their scope and what they are not qualified to do. It is also unlikely that they will take the task with much enthusiasm.

As a result you have inefficient and overloaded staff, questionable results that may not even be usable, frustration in the office and wasted time.

You now realize that your office needs some help with the task.

So then you will go to your admin or someone local and move on to:

Translation Mistake 2. Asking friends and non professionals to lend a hand

It probably wasn’t even your own idea. Your admin will convince you that her cousin/friend/English teacher will have the job done in no time and it won’t cost a thing.

And at this point if you don’t specify that you need the job done to a professional standard, she will find a student or a freelance newbie, who has the time and the will.

It will not be surprising that your text will lack style, and some terms may get lost in translation or even untouched, as most non-professionals have no idea how to translate industry specific terminology and business jargon.

The same applies when outsourcing for exhibitions. Getting a student or even a freelance translator that does not specialize in your industry brings huge risks to the reputation of your company:

  • he might lack confidence

  • he may get confused with professional terminology

  • he may not understand the etiquette specific to your line of business

  • and he might just take off unexpected


So back to our text translation. Seeing the result of a non-pro you will quickly
understand that this approach does not work so well, and you finally head for some professional help.

Or, at least, that’s what you think you’ll be doing.

Mistake 3. Finding a ‘cheap’ agency

We all know that price matters. We all appreciate good value, and once you have done some research in the translation world, you will be facing quite a dilemma: to go to a cheaper agency that promises fantastic time frames, a dream price and a 30% off coupon on top? Or to others that are costly, will not bargain and be quite slow in comparison to the former.

You imagine that all translation agencies are alike (read: the same), and you would imagine some are overpriced just because their office is located in a better part of the city, or they come from abroad, or their boss needs a new car. So you choose the cheap one.

And we all know the old truth – you get what you pay for. But in this case, low-cost agencies hire random foreigners, texts are not proof read (read: extra-cost) and “cheap” translators use software that will make your text sound robotic at best, or completely indecipherable at worst.

At one point you will realize you still are overloading your team to review these translations. in other words, you pay people who don’t do their job well, who delay, and who may also randomly change their prices.

After going through such issues, you will wish you had chosen the professionals who don’t bargain at the very beginning, as now you have lost so much time and the due date is fast approaching.

So this brings us to:

Mistake 4. Last minute translations

Now this is one of the translation mistakes is made by companies who already went through the first 3 steps and have now switched to more professional services. Their documents have been sitting on a desk for weeks, and only when the deadline arrives “tomorrow”, they are shipped to translators, who are forced to provide both an ultra speedy and spotless service.

This situation will put your translator under a lot of pressure, and will deprive him of time to read the reference material carefully, and adjust the style to bring out your brand’s identity.

But things could be even worse. You may have to put several different translators on one project, making the style and terminology used even harder to align.

But we still haven’t reached rock bottom: once you send your text to the agency, they may send the entire project back to be redone, as it contains so many inconsistencies and omissions:

Mistake 5. Poor quality source documents

Yes, it happens often when we receive a text drafted by a non-native speaker and/or a non professional, translators have trouble understanding it. Most likely, this text was drafted during step 1 or step 2 described above, or it was itself a poor quality translation from another language:

Mistake 6. Skipping the English version 

It is important to understand that translating… lets say from Arabic to Spanish, may have to be done via English. Using English as a pivot language will save you headaches, future costs and embarrassment. Firstly, your project manager will do a good job with the quality control, and it’s common for project managers of translation companies to be native English speakers.

Secondly, you can use that copy to convert the text to as many languages as you want without extra costs (as language pairs that include English are much less costly)

Mistake 7. Priorities in the wrong order

Another very important point companies have to understand when working with service companies, is about setting their priorities right.

This means that: PRICE—> TIME—> QUALITY is not the recommended route. In fact it’s the exact opposite.

For a quality translation, a suitable time frame and realistic costs must be factored in, as professionals cost more than students.

So make sure your admin/manager understands the priorities before outsourcing your translation service. And make sure you do not fall into one of the various traps during your next move:

Mistake 8. Choosing the price over the experience

This is one of the most common translation mistakes we deal with.

Some companies have all documents translated and ready for the business event, and inviting industry gurus and high profiles guests, yet providing them with a “reasonably priced” freelance interpreter.

Why will this scenario cost a company much more than what they put into this interpreting mission?

What most companies don’t know, is that on average, we lose about  10% of the technical value in professional, specialized interpreting. Therefore the training will only be 90% efficient.

When you hire a non specialized professional, you lose up to 30% of the original information.

And when you hire an interpreter at random, who does not specialize in the required field or who shows no passion for it, you might actually lose up to 50% of the training via lack of professional terminology and understanding of the processes.

So do not waste any more time and money: find a professional service that will take care of the entire process, and make your life much easier.

How do you know if an agency is any good?

6 rules of a Good agency:


1. The translators used are highly experienced in their respective fields (normally around 5-10 years)

2. The translators translate into their native language

3. The translators use professional and industry-recognized tools

4. The documents are proofread by a separate party not involved in the translation

5. The agency has a Project Manager who will be in touch with the client and will communicate the needs and modifications to the team

6. The agency offers their clients a free translation test before any work is undertaken


As a multilingual expert, HI-COM respects all these rules and more: we offer professional services in translation, interpreting and copywriting in more than 40 language pairs. We are an International standard agency with headquarters in Shanghai. We specialize in the Chinese market, yet we have clients all over the world. 

At HI-COM we use high-performance CAT tools such as Trados, the industry standard. Our multinational team is highly trained, efficient, and at your service.  

Still want to trudge through all the steps above on your quest for an efficient translation service? Why not send us a quick email instead, and we’ll take care of the rest!

Kate CHERNAVINA8 common mistakes companies make when dealing with translations

Related Posts