The World Needs More Proofreaders

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Ad Fail!

Ad Fail!

I work as a freelance translator, copyeditor and proofreader.

People are usually familiar with the concept of translating and editing. A translator, well, translate text from a source-language to a target-language, and a copyeditor makes sure the information is conveyed properly.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is somewhat of a mysterious task to most people.

Basically, proofreaders detect and correct production-errors of text or art. They correct spelling and grammatical mistakes, research proper terminology to ensure consistency and style, etc. They also look at the big picture to make sure everything makes sense.

And trust me, without proofreaders, the world would be a messy—albeit funnier—place.

Along with translating and editing materials, I do a fair share of proofreading. I usually proof translations, manuscripts, research papers, but also advertisements, brochures, reports, etc. Proofreading is a pretty demanding task because it is the last stage of production before publication—you are the last pair of eyes on the work.

Every writer or designer needs to be proofread, no matter how skilled, how experienced, how knowledgeable. A second pair of eyes on text or print is crucial. For instance, even though I proof myself carefully after writing each blog article, I am sure a few typos or mistakes creep in—and occasionally, my friends in the field point them out to me (and yes, I am grateful for that!). Proofing your own writing is incredibly hard—you are blind to your own typos.

I catch funny typos all the time for my clients. For instance, “pubic relations” instead of “public relations” (ooops!) or “people who are death or hard of hearing” instead of people who are deaf or hard of hearing” (oops again!), “delicious Chinese dumpings” instead of “Chinese dumplings”, etc.

Let me just say my clients are usually very happy when I spot and correct these typos.

But like I said, proofreading is also about looking at the big picture, not just single words or sentences. And look at what I spotted on the window of Swarovski Crystal (a famous jewellery store selling luxury products) in Bayshore Shopping Mall:

“Someone failed geography!” I immediately said, laughing.

The caption (no picture, I didn’t want the employees to think I was going to steal jewellery!) was talking about someone visit “Inca temples” in Mexico. Okay, I know it’s a piece of trivia that I happen to know because we traveled in Latin America, but the Inca empire was centered in Peru, thousands of kilometers from Mexico. Mexico was the heart of Mayan and Aztec civilizations—nothing to do with the Incas. Anyway, I found it pretty funny that a major international company like Swarovski could make such a basic cultural faux-pas in its advertising campaign and that no one had caught it before print.

Swarovski’s excuse on Twitter was pretty lame:

But hey, if you are a proofreader, here is your chance: send your resume to Swarovski!

Note: I proofed this article like five times. And I am sure a typo or two creep in.

Update: May 23, 2013 Walked by the store at the Rideau Centre and… ta-da, the map was changed! I like to think it’s because of me, but the brand never really acknowledged the mistake.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. It doesn’t help that most often we scan through the words and miss spelling mistakes. I know that I can’t edit something that I wrote, because I miss all the mistakes!

  2. It’s pretty rare big companies like that make such enormous mistakes! I’m pretty sure one advertising firm won’t see it’s contact renewed!

  3. I just love it when a French person tells me, “Oh, we don’t need a translator or proofreader, I (or my assistant, or whoever) spent a year in London so I do the translating and proofreading into English myself.”

    Or even better, “Oh, I just use Google Translate, it’s just like a real translator.”

    No wonder there are so many mistakes in “translated/proofread” reading material in France.

    • You could, of course, apply what I just said to many countries. This is not a France-specific way of thinking. There are people everywhere that think about translation and translators in this way.

      • And don’t you love it when people brag “oh, I spent like two weeks in the UK, I am now fluent in English!”

        Some of my former schoolmates were like that. And I was like “mmm… funny, I must be very slow because it took me at least a couple of years to be somewhat fluent in English after I moved to Ottawa.”

    • Oh yes to both!

      Here, as you probably know, there is often the “franco de service”, aka someone who kind of speak French (emphasis on “kind of”) but can’t spell, doesn’t have a proper grasp on grammar and knows nothing about translation work.


    • You can always try! But it is a full-time job, really, same as I can’t just do some marketing work or coding work “on the side” 😉

  4. Hi Zhu,

    I worked with a partner in trnslation- proofing; I was the better writer and translator and she the better proofer so we complemented each other well.
    I found proofing to be more strenuous than translation itself.
    Great find for that ad!!

    • The key is to find someone with complementary skills, must have been a great match! I can see you as a copywriter and translator 😉

  5. Whoa, this actually happened? I agree, that’s a lame excuse. And no, Mexico is not the same as South America (or Latin America, for that matter), the same way as USA is not the same as North America. I just find it weird that sometimes, people who work in advertising are paid big bucks just to produce *ehem* like this.

  6. This reminds me of my time as a medical transcriptionst. When you type operative reports, it usually starts with “The patient was prepped and draped”. A common typo would be “The patient was prepped and raped”. Scary typo.

    We were warned not catch that one, though 😀

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