How to Spot Bad Translations

how to spot bad translations

Before we begin…let me preface by saying I’m not a perfect translator myself. In fact, I wouldn’t even really consider myself a good one. With the help of Soma, SutaMen and Masked Man correcting my work and providing suggestions…I’ve learned a lot about translations and have become better. Today, I want to talk about how you can spot bad translations. Then, let me continue with why it’s even important (why you should care).

How to Spot a Bad Translation:

I’m going to turn the next part of this article into a listicle. I generally hate the practice, but I think it’s more effective for this type of information.



  • The grammar is not correct


Does it sound like Google Translate was helping out with the translation? Literal translations are usually not good, and it makes the speaker sound like a robot. Most people don’t sound like they are robots, so stop translating them like that!



  • Improper/Weird Terminology


A lot of games use special terms, or have been localized in a certain way. For example, Smash’s ‘Final Smash’ becomes ‘Final Trump’ when literally translated into English. If translations repeatedly use weird/incorrect terminology, it might be best to skip over that translation as they obviously didn’t bother to check their translation.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a bad translation.


  • Lack of experience, or bad reputation


Check the person that translated it. What’s their reputation? Are they known for their ability? Is it a random person on Twitter? If so, they might not be the best source for a translation. Anyone can claim to be a translator — it doesn’t mean they are.



  • Awkward flow


This is a little different from #1. Awkward flow means that it seems like the translator is missing an essential meaning of the paragraph. This happens a lot with Japanese translations as Japanese is a very context-driven language. If the translator doesn’t fully understand, or isn’t paying attention, then they might get lost.

“Engrish” shirts are very common in Japan and Asia.


  • “Providing Summaries”


Providing summaries should not be taken as a statement on what is said as the context for certain statements might have been lost. “Providing summaries” is usually key for being too lazy to translate the entire / relevant passage (heck we’ve done it!). Or code for not having the ability to accurately translate sentences. For sensitive topics — such as Sakurai’s statements on Smash or information about the NX, a full translation is essential to fully understanding what was said. A summary is NOT a quote, and it’s NOT a faithful translation.



  • Double negatives


Double negatives can be a clear sign that it was translated too literally  / not polished.


The Rise of Translations:

For the past couple years, providing translations as a new source of information has become more and more popular. This is from a mixture of the success of sites like Legends of Localization and Tom James, the hard work of Cheesemeister and Street Ahead on Neogaf and Twitter, as well as more demand for it. Kantopia also deserves a special shoutout, as they directly inspired us.

PhoenixProofIt makes sense. A lot of information was previously posted in one language. For example, Miyamoto would do an interview with the members of the Japanese boy band SMAP…and people outside of Japan would never get to see it as main news sites: (1) don’t have the presence in those countries / languages to naturally stumble upon them, or (2) the interviews / pieces themselves may be too niche-focused, and frankly not worth the time and effort to translate them. If interesting new information is not directly mentioned, it may not interest the translator.

However, niche sites are popping up left and right. More people are invested in all facets of the fandom and the Internet is proving to be an effective way to connect and support those groups. At the end of the day, discussing Smash development and speculation is an incredibly niche topic. That’s probably why no other site like Source Gaming ever existed. Of course, there were efforts by people within the community to collect and organize information, but not on the scale that we’ve achieved.

Furthermore, a lot of news blogs have turned to the 24/7 news cycle. Being the first is far more important than being the most well-informed due to the nature of the Internet. Looking at sources in other languages is a way to get a leg up on the competition and to discover possibly new and interesting information for their readers. Anyways, that’s how and why translations are becoming more and more popular. Let’s talk about the dangers of this trend.

Danger Ahead:

With sites essentially “racing” others for translations and speed being more prioritized, this means that quality is sometimes thrown out the window. Sometimes, something will be “translated” by someone who doesn’t have a strong understanding of the language, and so it might be taken out of context. This ties a bit into John Oliver’s recent speech about print journalism and the need for professional news organizations.  



Bad translations happen all the time. Don’t believe me? Check out the misinformation section of the Definitive Unused Fighter List. Most of the misinformation is from other sites or people “guessing” what Sakurai said, or by not providing the full context. This can be done due to a lack of experience or to push a certain agenda. This was particularly the case before Source Gaming, as people might want to push their character of choice by saying something like, “Oh yeah, Sakurai totally wanted him,” when that’s not what he said.     tumblr_inline_oa6su5emZu1qkpnrw_500

As more and more groups / people get involved with providing translations, the need to “race” out of practicality is increased. You can provide a better translation, but because most people don’t know how to spot a bad translation, or don’t care, the worst translation may be more successful / become the standard. This is stressful as it’s very difficult for people to unlearn facts. It’s far easier to introduce them as new information than to tell someone they are wrong. So there’s a lot of pressure to accurately represent what was said the first time and not to create any confusion. This is because as a content creator — you may have only one shot to do so.

Reporting on bad translations are far worse than rumor reporting. This is because for the average reader, they have no reason to question the translation quality, and may sincerely believe that the translation is flawless. Especially if that site touts itself as a news source. So if there’s one thing I want you guys to take away from this article, and really understand, is that some of the translations that are being published by gaming news sites are not done by professional translators and are not checked by other people before publishing.

Anyway, that’s it for today. Let me know what you think of this article in the comments below. Please share this, as I need your help getting the word out. The more people that are aware of this practice, the more likely we can fix it.

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  1. This is a great article. I want to be a translator when I graduate from college, but for Spanish. This could be very helpful for the classes I’m taking.

  2. I’m glad that I’ve looked into the translation process and visit sites such as this one, as I can now easily spot bad translation and clumsy localization. However, just like how TV Tropes will make you unable to unsee tropes, I can never unsee bad translation, making me really notice the awkward localization of, for example, Final Fantasy VII while playing it for the first time. It’s also made me appreciate when it’s clear that the translators put in good effort, such as noticing the vastly improved quality of Final Fantasy IV’s DS localization during my playthrough when compared to a Let’s Play I watched of the PSP version (which is slightly edited from the GBA script, which is a cleanup of the awful SNES translation). I’d like to thank you and all the other people out there who educate us about this stuff.

  3. Incidentally, there can still be the curious dichotomy of games with great localization having bad spellchecking and grammar fixing. Those Phoenix and Edgeworth GIFs you posted reminded me of how both great and bad Ace Attorney’s translation can be. Hopefully they improved a little in time for Spirit of Justice this Thursday.

    Great article, either way.

  4. As an langauge nerd (I’ve been translating Touhou to Hindi), thanks for this article! Despite the hilarity that bad translations can often provide, they are more often than not bad, as they cause misunderstanding, so I’d really like to see translation quality improve.

  5. I do agree fully on this article. Mistranslation is always a cause of misinformation, making people mistakenly understanding things that’s not meant to be true because of it’s lack of meaning. Most of them are not just only video games, but many other visual medias like manga and anime as well. I’m Japanese and can speak in bilingual, so I can translate Japanese to English or the opposite if possible, but not perfectly. However, I do understand what it means. So when it comes with mistranslations, I just can’t stop wondering saying “I don’t remember that character saying such thing in the actual Japanese version!?” and “where the hell did the translator even brought up with such phrase!?”.

    For example, Dragon Ball Z is the well known manga/anime with a box full of mistranslations. If you’ve heard of the most famous “OVER 9000!!!” meme, then you should know that its actually wrong, which the actual Japanese manga expressed that Goku’s power level back then was actually 8000, which we don’t even know where the additional thousand came from. Another is Goku’s father Bardock known to be a scientist in the western version, which is not true in the Japanese version which nobody knows why they translated it that way (maybe because they wanted to make it a Superman rip-off).

    Another mistranslation found was from Sonic too. According to his classic Genesis game’s instruction manual, its referred that his home planet is called Mobius, but nobody knew where such name actually came from. It was found that this name was from a mistranslated interview report with Yuji Naka when Sonic 2 was released, and before their Archie Comics were released. Yuji Naka wasn’t good in English, not even the translator were good in its skill either. In one interview, Yuji Naka did use a word “Mobius” in it, but wasn’t referring as a name of the world, but a mobius strip mechanic used in Sonic 2, possibly Emerald Hill’s spiral loop obstacle. It is understandable why Sega now these days doesn’t use Mobius as Sonic’s planet from the Dreamcast era to the recent games, except for the Archie version as they still using it for strict reasons. For more details on this information, you can check it out through this link here:

    But in opinion, I think nobody cared about foreign languages back in the 90’s, which brought so many misinformation and misunderstandings because of bad translation. Because of that, many people misunderstood the whole concept of the story and character descriptions, possibly giving the original version a bad reputation. Its a good thing translations are improving today, but still need more effort to translate things correctly in order to make viewers understand in a balanced way without any contradictions to follow. But like Smash today, western viewers do follow the illusion of misinformation, accepting negative fan biases that Sakurai didn’t even officially say such thing at all. Much more, this site really helps solving those mistranslated parts to make sure viewers would understand what Sakurai was trying to say, but that really depends on viewers whether to understand things well or simply follow the misleading fanmade information.

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