How to get rid of bad translation choices?

It’s one of the things I have to deal with on a regular basis in working with my in-house translators: how to improve on people’s bad translation choices. The word “bad” here is not meant as an absolute: it simply refers to a term that we as a group prefer not to use and that we invariably correct if we come across it. In most cases it’s just a turn of phrase that is not as universally common as one would like to think, or a typographic convention that has not been thoroughly understood and absorbed. Yet very often not even a clear explanation is enough to eradicate these choices, including when a request to create a personal checklist with one’s own special little flaws is made.

I guess we all fall into the rut of using the same phrases, adjectives, adverbs and idiomatic expressions we have become accustomed to. To be honest, many of these are like a buoy in the ocean, useful little helpers that can come to our aid when nothing better or more appropriate comes to mind.

But if we are not conscious of this, if we don’t pay enough attention to the fact that habits in translation can turn your words to putty, then it is also possible that making a change would not really work and that we would be unable to appreciate the better (or sometimes just different) choice that is imposed upon us.

In Italian, for instance, words like the verb “consentire” have become staples of our linguistic production because they are neutral and flexible. So much so, in fact, that when someone start using other, less orthodox terms, we are immediately alerted to the change and run for cover.

In an ideal world we would have created a common, flexible, accurate set of language choices that we all share and that make our work (mine, like that of my translators) similar in that it stems from the same set of choices.

But these are the things that take planning and time, and very often we refrain from engaging in these types of undertakings because we “just don’t have the time”. And all the time we know that it would only save time to do it!

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  1. Good article, Ms. Ascari!

    This is something that we often run into with our translators and customers as well. In order to help reduce these “errors” we developed an online collaboration tool. This allows all parties to log into their secure accounts and review how their source material is being translated. In it, they can make suggestions and even more reviewers are able to accept or reject those suggestions. Of course, there has to be a limit to the number of revisions done and, the last I checked, ours were around three times, I believe.

    Just thought I would share – visit ( to learn more about our system and watch a tutorial.


  2. Thanks for the tip. Personally I don’t believe that more reviewers necessarily make for a better translation — unless they are very good, very humble and care about the translation above themselves — but I will certainly take a look at this tool.

  3. Hi Gabriella, yes I wanted to write to thank you and to say that you had inspired a little blog entry from me, but Simon beat me to it. You make a very good point, also sometimes it is complacency (or maybe this is a strong word) or laziness, sometimes a translation is the first that comes to mind and the effort, or the time, to find another are lacking. Alla fin fine non siamo “macchine” :-)) Ciao

  4. Thanks Adriana, and you’re right, lack of time leads to not making the effort and this in turns becomes a habit. We are definitely not machines, but we are often asked to be in terms of output and what not, but this is not good enough. Grooming the language we use, as it were, is very very important.

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