Translation | A Scientific Approach to Typos

Translation | A Scientific Approach to Typos

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Typos. A tiny little word, yet in a translation it’s a not-so-tiny monstrosity, capable of causing mental distress to those who make them and, alas, spot them when it’s already too late.

We all make typos, we all have typo-induced nervous breakdowns. But guess what? That’s absolutely normal, even for über-perfectionists like us linguists …

There is a scientific reason behind this. In a nutshell, it’s down to us being human. But let’s try to delve deeper into science. In an article published on Wired, University of Sheffield Psychologist Tom Stafford – who focuses his research on the not so noble art of typos – explains that when we are trying to get our point across, we are fundamentally trying to convey meaning, in what qualifies as a very high level task. This means that our brains tend to focus more on complex tasks like constructing sentences and semantically accurate concepts, perhaps overseeing more simple components of the text such as the correct spelling of a word. For this reason, we are not always able to catch every detail, and we often become typo-blind.

Cambridge University published an interesting research explaining this kind of brain activity:

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

However, this is no excuse for sloppiness in translation. We’ll never stress enough the importance of proofreading. Make sure your work/CV/cover letter is ready to be shared with the world. Double check – or even triple check – everything, print out what you’ve written and read it aloud. This way you can at least try to trick your brain into thinking that it’s reading that piece of text for the very first time. Another option is having it checked by a professional proof-reader.

Mind you, proofreading is never a waste of time. This is particularly true when you’re trying to land a new job and impress a potential employer. You would be amazed by the number of typo-ridden applications we receive. Attention to detail is key, especially within an industry like translation. So don’t be surprised if your application and cover letter end up in the bin. Before mentally cursing every project manager on the planet for their lack of feedback, try checking your e-mail for typos or inaccuracies.

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