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Newsletter: The Art of Proofreading

You probably know the feeling of reading a text and being able to tell that not quite enough time has gone into checking things like grammar and spelling. This can be frustrating and often has quite a different effect on the reader than that which was intended.


In some ways, the task of proofreading becomes all the more time-consuming and complex for a translator. They have to check that the translation they have produced reads fluently, but they also need to check it against the source text to make sure that the correct meaning has been understood, and that parts of the text haven’t been missed out during the process of translating!

Many translators like to leave their work aside for a day or two (sometimes even a week if possible!) in order to read their translation as a text that was originally written in the target language. This means that they will (hopefully) be less influenced by the source text that dominated their translation process, and have a fresh pair of eyes for spotting mistakes! It can often help to ask a native-speaking friend or colleague to take a look as well.

Of course, a translator will then need to go back to the source text for a final check that the content has been accurately translated. This involves reading both texts as a whole to ensure that the meaning has been conveyed effectively, but also includes more tedious tasks like checking that numbers and dates match up (imagine translating 1.7 million people as 17 million people, for example!).

Some proofreaders and translators even read texts backwards (from the end to the beginning) to really make sure that each sentence is formed correctly. Reading aloud is another useful strategy and often means that a mistake will be stumbled upon that might otherwise have been missed.

A computer programme’s spelling and grammar checkers can certainly be helpful when proofreading, but we need to be aware that they don’t spot everything! Take a look at some sentences that Microsoft Word doesn’t have a problem with…

Let’s go over they’re.

He brought her a piece offering.

The Price of Whales attended the conference.

I need a first aid kid.

Do you have a pen I could burrow?

If it’s not clear yet why proofreading is so important, here are some examples of what can happen when it’s not done thoroughly. The results can be pretty serious, not to mention expensive!

  • In 2006, airline Alitalia mistakenly listed a flight on their website as costing $39 instead of $3,900. 2,000 excited passengers had already booked their business class tickets from Toronto to Cyprus by the time the mistake was found…
  • The US Government lost $2 million in 1872 when ‘fruit, plants’ instead of ‘fruit-plants’ were made exempt from taxes.
  • In 1988, a Californian travel agency got more attention than it bargained for when it was advertised in the Yellow Pages as selling ‘erotic’ rather than ‘exotic’ holidays. The company took legal action and Yellow Pages ended up having to pay out $18 million!
  • Back in 1631, Robert Baker and Martin Lucas, the Royal Printers, published 1,000 copies of a version of the Bible that read ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’ in its Ten Commandments. They lost their publishing licence and were fined £300 (worth a whole lot more today!). King Charles I demanded the bibles be burnt, but apparently a few copies have survived to this very day…

Here at Tongue Tied, all of our translations are proofread by a native speaker of the target language, so we can guarantee that mistakes like these will be avoided!

Do you know of any funny mistakes that were missed during the proofreading process? We’d love to hear them!


Isabella Fink

Isabella Fink

I am native Austrian and studied Linguistics and Literature at the University of Innsbruck and in Manchester, so language and translation has always been a passion of mine. Before joining Tongue Tied, I have worked as a Translation Assistant and in Customer Services and Purchasing.

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  1. Debbie P

    I do love these kinds of blogs. I’m such a fanatic about typos that I get named as our company proofreader. I’m guessing I’m not the only one that saw a typo in this article. I’m sure you were trying to see if we would notice. Great blog.

    • Isabella Fink

      Hi Debbie, many thanks for your kind comment! Great to hear that you are enjoying our blog and well done for noticing the built-in error 🙂

    • Tracy

      Please tell me the built-in error!! I just can’t spot it.


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