Top 10 Translation Problems and Solutions

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Just as in every field, there are several translation problems in the translation industry; some are faced by the translators, and some by the clients; while other ones may be considered structural problems because they pose a problem for translation itself.

Structural variations between languages, cultural differences, compound words… In this article we will go through both the main structural problems in translation and the main challenges of translation faced by Translators, Clients and the Industry as a whole.

Although we cannot give a solution that fits every single problem of translation entirety, we might help you mitigate their impact with some tips extracted from experience.

Without further ado, this is our Top 10 on the major translation problems and their solutions:

Translation Problems and Solutions

1. Structure of the Language

structure of the language

The structure of sentences in English and other languages may be different. This is considered to be one of the main structural problems in translation.   

The culture practised by the speakers of each language may also be vastly different. In many languages, certain terms may be completely absent… This is one of the most common challenge faced by a translator on its daily basis, also one of the main reasons why translation is difficult. 

For example, in English the adjective is placed before the noun, but in French the adjective comes after the noun. In Arabic and some other languages, the subject pronoun is part of the verb, and that determines the subject gender and the voice of the sentence.

You might also want to know about the 9 Most Common Translation Mistakes.

Confusing? It can get so! Language is complex, vast, and ever-evolving. The translator has to know the exact structure in each language, and use the appropriate structure, and they have to ensure that the translation is performed without changing the meaning as well. 

Solution: Limit your Expertise.

Gain expertise only in a couple of languages that you are already well-versed with. Make use of grammar checkers, translation memory tools and other techniques to ensure that you have maintained the structure in the target language without changing the meaning or sense of the source document.

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2. Cultural Differences

The culture practised by the speakers of each language may also be vastly different; Often, colloquialism is woven into formal language, making the translator’s task very difficult indeed.

The larger the region where the language is spoken, the more the dialects there are likely to be, and the more colloquial words you are likely to find – except in technical documents translations, legal document translations, or translations of medical transcripts.

For example, the British are famous for their dry, biting sarcasm, which is their brand of humor. However, this kind of sarcasm may not be appreciated in not just a country speaking a different language, but even another country where they speak English.

Then the problem arises as to how to translate accurately without hurting sentiments or angering the target audience. Culture is also considered to be a structural translation problem.

Also Read these 9 Tips For Translating Legal Documents.

Solution: Research and Investigate

Scan the internet to learn the most popular colloquialisms used in that language, and familiarise yourself with the most commonly used dialects. This can give you a fair idea when you need to translate.

Soak in the culture as much as you can through movies, TV shows, magazines and books in that language. Movies and TV shows will be especially helpful in recognizing local culture and dialects.

3. Compound Words


A compund word is a combination of two or three nouns and adjectives. They could be closed of three forms – closed form, like notebook; hyphenated like long-distance, or open form like fighter pilot. Some compound words are pretty straightforward, and mean exactly what they say – like afternoon; some mean only half of the term, like say bellboy, and some mean nothing of their original words – for example deadline. In such cases, it can get very tricky for the translator.

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Solution: Focus your Knowledge

Any translator needs to choose their niche. You should not try to be jack of all trades; select one or two subjects, and become expert in them.

Familiarize yourself with the compound words most commonly used in your subject area, and learn the translations. Use translation memory and other software to make your job easier.

4. Verbs made up of two words

In English there are several verbs that are made up of two words – usually, a combination of a verb and a preposition. For example: break up, break down, break into, break in, break off, break apart, break away; these all mean different things, though the common verb is break.

Here the preposition which follows immediately after gives it a completely different meaning. It is highly unlikely that translating the two words into the target language will give you the same meaning!

Solution: Avoid Literal Translation

Think of finding an appropriate word in the target language for the phrase or the verb in its entirety rather than attempting a literal translation.

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5. Missing Terms

Missing terms are very common translation issue. In some languages, certain terms may be completely absent – this has also to do with culture, as those objects may not be used by the people, or those actions or activities may not be permitted or simply not performed.

This is a potentially difficult situation for the translator, and poses another important structural problem worth of discussion. Let’s suppose the term child adoption has no related word in another language, because such a thing just doesn’t take place in that area!

Solution: It is best to confer with the Client

In such cases it is best to confer with the client and then come to a decision as to the best course to take. They may suggest retaining the word of the source document, or they may suggest a new term themselves, or may even ask you to come up with a newly coined term that gets as close to the actual meaning as possible.

Whatever the case, be always ready to deal with translation feedback.

6. Words with Several Meanings

There are several words in the English language that have different meanings based on the way they are used in the sentence. Words are sometimes spelled alike and pronounced alike, but have different meanings, like break (a plate) or take a coffee break. Words that have the same spellings but different pronunciations like to lead a conference, or a lead pencil.

There are also words that have different spelling but have the same pronunciation,  like break and brake, grate and great, and so on. There are hundreds of such words in English, and also idioms, metaphors, similes and so on. However, those words may be different in other languages.

Solution: Read very carefully

The translator has to be very vigilant, and carefully read the source text to fully grasp the meaning. Only after that should they begin the work of translation; otherwise, it can lead to embarrassing Translation problems.

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7. Lack of Technical Knowledge

Regarding technical knowledge, translators are first and foremost, linguists; though they do have good knowledge of certain subjects, they are usually not the top experts in the field. In fact it’s very rare that you find a say, doctor, who is also an expert linguist. Translators usually specialise in certain niches, and gain subject matter expertise.

But sometimes that may not be enough for some types of specialized translation; some documents may be full of technical jargon, or talk about specific procedures or activities in detail. This can pose a problem for translators.

Solution: Ask experts for help

If the matter is very technical you may need a lot of time – more than usual, to complete the task. You could contact the client for some pointers if you’re stuck, or consult a local expert you know well, and ask them for help.

You would also need to read up and educate yourself to gain deeper knowledge, or to keep in step with the new developments happening in that field.

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8. Limited Time

Limited time is the most common problem that translators face every single day, because most clients need the translated work quickly; they have no time to lose.

If it is a straightforward document, then you may be able to finish it within the deadline. But when it is a technical or legal document full of technical terms or if there is a lot of dialect and colloquialism involved, it could take longer.

This can be very stressful for you as a translator, when your client is breathing down your back to get the translated documents.

Solution: Technology is your friend

Use as many technologies as you can – translation memory software, computer aided translation software and more, to speed up the process as much as possible. These are the 10 Online Translation Tools Recommended By Translators. Other than that, the only thing you could do is put in a request for more time, right at the outset.

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9. Personal Challenges

Personal Challenges, as opposed to linguistic challenges, are those arises because of the environment around the translator. All the challenges we discussed above are linguistic challenges.

There are many benefits on being a translator, but sometimes some of those benefits may also bring problems. For example, being a translator involves a very independent working schedule. This means you can work anytime you want, even from home, but you still have deadlines and time requisites. If you do not handle your working time correctly you might find yourself working 24/7.

Apart from those, a translator may face several other challenges in their line of work. These include but are not limited to: proper internet access, competition from other translators, competition from machine translation, and the dilemma of pricing your services appropriately.

Solution: Know yourself

There is no one size fits all translation solution for these problems. Know yourself, dissect the problems of translation that we stated above and face them one by one. You will need to figure out how to get around each of these problems and do your best to minimize them. As with many other problems in life, it helps to be disciplined and stablish a working routine and a schedule. Always remember that you can always ask someone for help!


10. Quality Vs Expense

This is the most common translation problem faced by clients who need Translation Services:

The biggest challenge for the client when facing a translation is to strike a balance between cost and quality. It is especially important in the case of translations of technical or medical manuals, or legal documents. You can barely afford to have any mistakes or near mistakes in such documents, as it could lead to misinterpretation by the readers and wrong usage – and that could result in damage to the equipment, or harm to the user; which could in turn have even further ramifications, like loss of reputation for the manufacturer, legal hassles and so on. Ergo,  you want a very precise translation.

This could lead to serious translation problems, and solutions must be found cautiously. However, the persons with expertise in such translations may be busy professionals who are much sought after, and they may charge high rates for these documents.

In certain cases, the person or company in need of the translation may not have a very high budget for the same. This is a classic dilemma faced by the customer, so make sure you know how to evaluate the quality of a work of translation.

Solution: Aim to be the Best Translator!

There is no easy answer to this problem! Translating is a hard job, but remember there are also a lot of benefits of being a Translator! Here are some things you can try, though: Do a comprehensive search online, and shortlist a few providers. Get quotes from all of them and compare rates, experience and previous customer reviews. Strike a balance between the two, and come to a decision. Another things you could do is to use the same provider for all your translation work, so that you have more bargaining power.

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