Translation risk is not to be neglected by language professionals and clients. There are different knotty scenarios to be aware of.

We will divide this article in two large sections. The first will deal with risks that a client of translation must understand. The second section will study the risks that the translators themselves face.

But if you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:

Defining Translation

Translation is the process of transforming text from a source language, into a target language. The professionals who do this type of work are called translators. They are sometimes certified.

Translation Risk: Clients Beware!

A client looking for translation should be aware of a number of things that create a translation risk.

Finding the Right Translator

Finding the right translator is, obviously, the first step to acquiring a translation. Such a decision carries a translation risk. It is important to find the right professional, who fulfills particular criteria.

Certifications are useful to ascertain the ability of a translator. There will be times, however, when a would-be translator does not have a certification as such but is talented and able. Other times, a translator will work transnationally, possibly online, and thus a certification acquired in one country will not be accepted in another country anyhow.

It is possible to allow a translator to provide another type of proof to show they are qualified. Such proof runs an ample gamut. It may include things such as proof of experience or a portfolio with work samples.

Hasty Translations – Hold Your Horses

Translations will often be needed urgently. Such hastiness carries a translation risk. There are some industries that demand translations with extreme urgency, such as the legal world. The problem with demanding translations with such extreme velocity is twofold.

For one, an anxious and overworked translator may be tempted to use machine translation. This is problematic because even Google Translate is still underdeveloped and its translations are far from perfect.

Secondly, demanding translations at extreme speed will inevitably carry the risk of error. A fatigued translator is prone to make mistakes. Moreover, creating translations urgently will compromise proper translation procedure. As such, translations may end up being unpolished and phrases/segments may be lost in the shuffle entirely.

The best policy to avoid translation risk due to extreme urgency is to plan things out. Asking a translator to translate at top speed is often due to a lack of planning and foresight. Clients should plan for translations and respect the work of the translator.

Polishing the Original

Before giving a document to a translator, it is very useful to polish the original text. Translation risk increases if the original text has too many errors, particularly grammatical mistakes.

The aesthetic or ‘look’ of a text will also influence translation risk. Texts with extremely long paragraphs, for instance, will make things harder for a translator. The translation itself will seldom be able to fix these problems. In fact, a poorly written original text will probably read even worse in translation.

The best policy to avoid such a translation risk is to provide a translator with polished originals, written with care. If this is problematic, perhaps a professional could be hired to give the original text a proofread and repair before translating.

translation risks when translating languages

Deciding on Localization

Localization is a translation risk that is often underrated. Localizing is adapting content to a local or regional audience. Very often what happens is that content is translated and then this translation is localized. This process carries with it some risks.

First of all, the audience and target demographic must be determined, to determine the extent of the changes to be made to a translation. Imagine copy-writing which must be translated from French into ‘American English’. The degree of localization would determine how much to alter a translation rendered in ‘neutral’ English. A young audience may demand more localization, whilst a more adult audience may well mean less localization.

Another facet of localization which carries a translation risk is ‘airbrushing’. This term refers to localization which is only done superficially and cosmetically but lacks detail. Imagine such an advertising campaign in French, translated into English. Afterward, this translated copy-writing could be localized into ‘American English’ but only superficially: poor use of slang, local jargon, little cultural awareness, etc.

It is important to avoid this translation risk. There are several strategies to that effect. The best alternative is having a translator who is very culturally aware and not just merely technically competent.

Translation Risk: Translators look out!

Translation risk does not only occur when a client chooses a translator and sends an original text. The translating process itself suffers much of the brunt of translation risk.

Precision or Aesthetics

One of the biggest translation risks comes from the dualism between precision and aesthetics. Precision means trying to carry the greatest amount of literal detail from the original text and into the translated text. Aesthetics, on the other hand, is the beauty of the text itself, which the translator attempts to preserve as much as possible.

The problem with this dualism is that precision usually comes at the expense of aesthetic experience. Conversely, beauty usually demands experimentation and a lessened precision. This carries with it a complicated translation risk. On the one hand, too much precision may make a text clumsy and difficult to read. On the other hand, too much focus on aesthetics and the translated text may be extremely different from the original.

We are partial to the idea of translations that privilege precision over aesthetics. This is because precision is, in our opinion, the heart of translation. Such precision, moreover, is essential in areas such as the legal world. A focus on aesthetics is perhaps called for in literary translations and/or when the client demands it.

Missing Phrases

Missing phrases and segments is a great translation risk. As described earlier, translations are often needed with great urgency. This overworks the translator and mistakes are a possibility. One of these errors is omitting phrases and even sections in the process, thus creating a subpar translation.

There are some ways of mitigating this translation risk. Having adequate time to translate is the most obvious, as described earlier. A translator may also (i) use CAT tools and thus implement a translating process that goes segment by segment or (ii) implement some sort of system of revision/proofreading which does not take too much time.


Once a translation is finished, an awkward translation risk remains for a translator. This is the issue of payment. Many translators are not paid before they translate, or even as they work. They are paid after delivering the translation. This is where things sometimes go awry. It is not unusual for a client to withhold payment until the translation is revised, or simply to hold back because the company pays 30, 60 or even 90 days after receiving a final translation. Sometimes, a client ‘forgets’ to pay altogether.

This wreaks havoc on a translator, obviously. It is also self-defeating for a client too, since a good translator may be unwilling to work with them again. The better alternative is to agree on the payment timeline beforehand. A translator will prefer to be paid before delivery and a client will prefer to do so afterward. Perhaps the parties could settle on a 50%-50% setup, where a part of the payment is received before delivery and the other part afterward. This is easier said than done; many clients are in such haste that payment is that last thing on their minds.

Another alternative is to use an online translator provider entirely. Bunny Studio, for example, has a 100% guaranteed satisfaction for clients and pays their own translators in a timely manner. This online setup is ideal and probably the future of translation as such.

Constant Improvement

An unfortunate translation risk is the loss of language ability. A translator must be constantly improving language ability and thus curtailing any loss of linguistic capability. This may be done in several ways:

  • More Language Ability: This is acquired through constant reading, writing, and conversation in the language.
  • Familiarity with the Subject Matter: Translations are needed in many industries. It is crucial that a translator seeks more knowledge and expertise in such areas and not just in language ability. A translator who regularly works in the legal field, for example, should strive to learn more about this arena of knowledge. Such constant improvement will make for better translations and will mitigate translation risk as well.
  • Increasing Cultural Awareness: A translation risk that is often unrecognized is that of poor cultural awareness. Lack of cultural awareness is often displayed in the translation of subtitles in films and television. Indeed, translators who do this sort of work, although talented, are seldom aware of pop culture, ‘memes’, cultural in-jokes and the like. The result are well-translated subtitles, but which are too literal. A translator should try to increase cultural proficiency as much as possible to combat such translation risk.

translator risks in translation

The Gist of It

The following are the main strategies to diminish translation risk as much as possible:

Finding the Right Translator

Although certifications are optional, translators must be vetted to avoid translation risk.

Hasty Translations

Avoiding extreme hastiness goes a long way in mitigating translation risk.

Polishing the Original

Polished originals, written with care, make things much easier for a translator. They are instrumental in creating first-rate translations.

Deciding on Localization

Determining the audience and the target demographic is the first step in localizing translations. Avoiding superficial localization is also essential to lessen translation risk.

Precision or Aesthetics

Precision should be held above aesthetics unless the client explicitly decides otherwise.

Missing Phrases

Implementing some sort of system of revision/proofreading will mitigate the translation risk of forgetting phrases and sections.


Agreeing on a payment procedure or using an online provider altogether will solve this pesky translation risk.

Constant Improvement

More language ability, familiarity with the subject matter and cultural awareness are essential in lessening translation risk.