Beware! 4 Ways In Which Your Brain Cheats You

August 28, 2014
Beware! 4 Ways In Which Your Brain Cheats You

Successful professional translators tend to have a certain mind-set. They are efficient and methodical and, obviously, have a natural flair for linguistics.

Yet even top translators have off days and can find that they are victims of brain trickery – where your own mind seems to be working against you, preventing that flawless translation from flowing. 

Here we look at four ways in which your brain might try to cheat you, so that you can be on guard against your own mind!

Missing words

There’s a reason that you should never proofread your own work. Once you are familiar with a document and re-reading it, your brain kindly helps you along by telling you what you think the document says rather than what it actually says.

While you may have omitted to type a particular word that you meant to include, knowing that you intended it to be there can often be enough for your brain if you are reading fast – you will be left with the impression that the word is there, while someone fresh to the text will spot instantly that it has been missed out. 

Forgotten spellings

Every language has its tricky words, which create confusion for a significant percentage of its speakers. In English, it is words like there, their and they’re, which are frequently misused, despite their distinctly different meanings.

At times, it seems that the mind can go into freefall with such words. While most professional translators won’t struggle with commonly used words in this way, most find they have to pause for thought occasionally when it comes to more sparsely used words. 

This is an interesting aspect of linguistics, as it’s not that the translator doesn’t know the difference between the two (or more) spellings and the words’ respective meanings. Rather, it is as though the brain has drawn a faint question mark over them.

In my own case, it’s with stationery and stationary. I can easily define what each word means, yet when I’m typing a sentence that includes one of them, my mind pauses for a split second while it seems to look up which one is correct in that context. 

Semantic satiation

Semantic satiation refers to the repetition of a word until it loses its meaning to the speaker or listener. Instead, the brain perceives the repeated word as simply a meaningless sound being repeated over and over.

For those translators who like to sound out words aloud while they translate, for example to try out different synonyms, semantic satiation is never lurking too far away!

Missing letters

In the same way that the brain can show you words that aren’t there in a sentence where you expect to see them, it can do the same with missing letters, thanks to visual word recognition. This is because the brain reads whole words at a time, rather than individual letters.

The best explanation of this is supplied by the following text:
Aoccdrnig to 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.

For a professional translator, this means that typos that they may have incorporated into their translated text can be much harder to spot if they have put the first and last letters of the word in the correct place. 

Beware your brain!

So, whether it’s missing words, missing sentences, semantic satiation or forgotten spellings, beware of your brain next time you translate a document – it’s trying to trick you! 

Has your brain managed to trick you while translating? Share your experiences in the comments box to let us know how. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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