July 2018 Issue

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Nguyễn Thị Như Ngọc1, Lương Kim Hoàng2

1 Faculty of English Linguistics and Literature, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University - Ho Chi Minh City

2English Language Department, Ho Chi Minh University of Technology

Correspondence:Nguyễn Thị Như Ngọc,University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University - Ho Chi Minh City, Address: 10-12 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Email:, Tel.: +84.989.600.234.




The paper investigated common Vietnamese-English translation errors in photo captions at the War Remnants Museum, one of foreigners’ favorite tourist destinations in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. One hundred photo captions were randomly collected from the museum, and processed into a parallel corpus (in Vietnamese and English). Based on some popular models in translation, linguistic errors, currently used in the world, a hybrid erorr-analysis model was developed and applied to classfify the data in the corpus into 22 error typrs affiliated to 4 major error groups. The findings revealed that 93.63% of the corpus was found erroneous; and the most common errors were grammar, syntax, spelling, omission or addition, word choice, misunderstanding, and inconsistency. Then, some recommendations were provided for translation of photo captions in the hope to provide a useful reference for translation training as well as improve the translation quality for tourism texts in Vietnam.


Keywords: Photo caption, translation, errors, tourism, museum language




  1. 1.Introduction
  2. 2.Literature review
    1. 2.1.Photo captions as a type of tourism texts
  3. 3.Research methodology
    1. 3.1.Data collection
    2. 3.2.Data analysis procedure
    3. 3.2.1.Translation errors identification
    4. 3.2.2.Classification
      1. Grammar
      2. Syntax
      3. Punctuation
      4. Usage
      5. Addition or omission
      6. Terminology, word choice
      7. Too freely translated
      8. Too literal, word-for-word translation
      9. False cognate
      10. Ambiguity
      11. Accents and other diacritical marks
      12. Case (upper case/lower case)
      13. Word form
      14. Spelling
      15. Misunderstanding of the original text
      16. Mistranslation into target language
      17. Register
      18. Style
      19. Incomplete passage
      20. Inconsistency
  4. 4.Major findings and discussion
    1. 4.1.Language features in Vietnamese photo captions
      1. 4.2.Translation errors


Vietnam’s tourism industry has strongly developed for the past decade. In Decree No. 08-NQ/TW, tourism wasconsidered as a major economical industry, and it is now one of the leading sectors in Vietnam’s economy thanks to great benefits. For instance, Vietnam appealed 12.9 million international arrivals in 2017. There was an increase of about 30% in comparision with that of the previous year. As a result, Vietnam was first ranked one of the nations with the largest speed of development in the world. The tourism industry is expected to remains a milestone in Vietnam’s economy with a growth of 26-27% in 2018 (


The development of the international travel industry has led to the increase of opportunities for intercultural communication, and the role of tourism languageis to help transfer communication messages between foreign tourists and local people (Leclerc and Martin, 2004: 182 - 183). Tourist texts play important roles in providing information about tourist destinations, promoting tourist attractions, instructing travelers in tourism areas, describing historical objects, and explaining events in historical places.


Therefore, accurate translation is crucial to the tourists’ need of understanding the cultural, historical and scientific values of destinations. However, there exists a fact that many Vietnamese-English tourism texts are found with errors that cause misunderstanding and confusion. It may lead to bad images of Vietnam in the eye of international tourists.


In this paper, the authors concentrate on analyzing translation errors in a specific type of tourism texts - “photo caption” - the words underneath a photo to explain what the photo is about. Captions are commonly used to describe, provide information, and explain historical objects and events in museums which are an important part in the tour programs. In a survey by Đỗ (2005), there have been more than 120 museums in Vietnam but few have managed to attract visitors due to their poor management in many aspects, one of which is the lack of scienctifiness in their displays.


The research data is photo captions currently used at the War Remnants Museum, located at 28 Vo Van Tan St, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. As provided on its website (, this museum went into official operation in 1975 as The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government, focusing on the Vietnam War exhibits. It has undergone many changes and renovations during the process of relation normalization of Vietnam and the United States, and got its current name in 1993. It was ranked one of the 10 most interesting attractions in Vietnam by foreign tourists in 2009, and awarded the title of Vietnam’s typical museum in 2012. It is currently a unit under the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism Ho Chi Minh City. More than 20,000 documents, exhibits and films about the Vietnam and American War have been stored here, and over 18 million visitors have been welcomed for over 40 years. In the book The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation, Schwenkel (2009: 163) declares: “The War Remnants Museum, one of the most popular museums in Vienam, attracts approximately half a million visitors a year, two-thirds of whom are foreigners, according to museum estimates.”


The number of foreign visitors sometimes complaining about the choice of language in Vietnam’s museums is not a small one. Therefore, a research on the translation quality of photo captions used in the War Remnants Museumas a case study is useful and meaningful. Besides, error analysis of English translation of the photo captions here can serve a good form of practice for translation-majored students, and help them improve the professionalism in translation.


Collins COBUILD Dictionary (2017) defines “a caption is the printed underneath a picture or cartoon which explain what it is about”. Similarly, Merriam Webster Dictionary (2017) characterizes a caption as “the explanatory comment or designation accompanying a pictorial illustration”. And Oxford Learner’s Dictionary (2017) explains a caption are words printe underneath a picture, cartoon, etc. to explain or describe it. Some researchers affirm that photojournalism relies on a polysemiotic text of visual and verbal signs and verbal signs are usually shaped as captions and cutlines (Park, 2015: 498); a caption helps describe the content of a picture and the picture with its caption tells a story (Ijeh, 2015: 58).


In brief, all these statements share a common view, helping us to get a simple definition that a caption is a kind of texts used as an explanatory comment to clarify a photo or picture for a specific purpose in a certain place.


Lewis (1994), a journalism professor in California University, affirms that photos and words work together, and the words of the caption are a vital part of the communications package. Words explain, clarify, and add to a photo. Captions are to interpret the photo, and provide information not found within the image.


Captions are used in various fields such as journalism, advertising, communications, tourism, etc. Particularly, in tourism, they are used to illustrate photos in tourist attractions, to provide some relevant information and explain the events in the photos. The captions found in the photos at the War Remnant Museum are to provide its visitors with specific information and explain them the meaning of captured historical events, especially those related to the Vietnam War. They are, therefore, considered as a type of tourist texts.


In case of the language use in museums, Schmidt & Bùi (2013: 53 - 54) argues that the textused in museums, like other communicative medium, is a means of public communication to facilitate visitors’ need of understanding the cultural and historical values; and its functions of are to provide relevantinformation and explanation of displayed objects, photos and other things to visitors. In respect to the museum language in Vietnam, they emphasize the museum texts play a fundamental role in conducting communication and attracting visitors to have deeper research for exhibited objects, help create favorable and independent conditions to perceive and understand the information released. And certainly, photos are one of the most exhibited objects in museums.


Smith & (2005: 413) point out the caption writer can be a poet creating metaphor that resonates with the mood of the image, or the documentarian can be a verbal cropper who limits the boundaries of meaning possible when a person looks at an image.


The photo caption under research in this paper is not exceptional. They have all the functions of tourism texts so they are used as short vivid descriptions and explanations for the photos about the Vietnam War displayed in the War Remnants Museum.


2.2. Language features in photo captions


Smith & (2005: 413) emphasizes that a caption must provide all background information, usually in a complete sentence, if not a paragraph, that isn’t visually manifest in the image; in other words, the context in which an image can be understood. The caption can point out siginificant detail, that narrative information that might be small or hidden but that is necessary to be able to “read” the image correctly. The caption can point out potentially misleading information.


Obviously, the language in a photo caption must not be ambiguous because its mission is to clarify the image in the photo. Smock (2008), in the guidelines on writing photo captions published on the International Journalists’ Network, opines that a photo caption should provide the reader with basic information essential to understand a photograph and its relevance to the news. It should be written in a consistent, concise format. In most photo captions, the first sentence identifies the people, thing(s) and place in the photograph and supplies the date and location where it was taken. The second (and perhaps third) sentence should provide contextual information to help readers understand what they are looking at.


Example 1: “New York City Police Officers check subway cars at Columbus Circle on Friday, Oct. 7, 2005. Security in the city's mass transit system has been increased following yesterday's announcement of a specific terrorist threat to the subway system. (AP Photo/John Smock)” (Smock, 2008)


A photo caption may have as many as 4 parts, namelylead-in (photo headline), present tense sentence, past tense sentence, and quote: The lead-in is a catchy phrase or clause, immediate relates the caption to the photo with a visual-verbal connection; the present tense sentence provides quick and easy-to-read information about whom/what in the photo; the past sentence adds more information about the situations/background of the picture’s event (these sentences are aslo called as cutlines); and the quote can be either from a person in the photo or a person related to the action of the photo, as illustrated in the following example.


Example 2:




In the reality of language use, according to Smock (2008), photo captions should be brief. In basic photo captions, a sentence or two is usually sufficient. Most photo captions consist of one or two short, declarative sentences; and they should be written in complete forms and in the present tense. The present tense gives the image a sense of immediacy. It does not always logical to write the entire caption in the present tense. Often the first sentence is written in the present tense and following sentences are not. Some may extent to a third sentence if complex contextual information is needed to explain the image completely.


Example 3:



President Trump spoke to reporters in the East Room during a news conference with Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway. Credit Tom Brenner/The New York Times



Example 4: “9 Nov. - Cairo, Egypt - A woman displays her ink-stained finger after voting. Egyptians took to the polls today for the first round of parliamentary election. President Hosni Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) have allowed several opposition groups, most notably the formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood party, to be among the 5,000 candidates campaigning for more than 400 seats. Photo credit: John Smock/SIPA” (Smock, 2008)



Smock’s view point is quite consistent with that of Lewis (1994), who states that there are several styles of captions. One of his writing tips is keeping tenses logical, i.e. we use the present tense when referring to the photo, the past tense when providing background information not contained in the photo; and another tip is keeping sentences and cutlines short.


f the photograph is a historic or file photo, include the date that it was taken, e.g. Mayor David Dinkins, 1993. He agrees with the previous authors that a photograph captures a moment in time so whenever possible, use present tense. This helps create a sense of immediacy and impact. He also advises that the conversational language works best, and we should write the caption as if we are telling a family member a story.


Their views are quite accurate for photo captions in English, especially those used in international newspapers. Most newspapers use a caption writing style in which the first sentence is in the present tense and subsequent sentences in the past tense. The rationale is that the first sentence tells the reader what is happening in the photo. Subsequent sentences tell the context and background for what happened.  And an important language feature of photo captions is that we should write them in complete and short sentences.


Example 5:



In 1966, a soldier savors the scent of a letter from a girl back home. His company would participate in an assault on a tunnel-filled Vietcong position. Credit John Nance/Associated Press (Source:


Besides, in our observation of photo captions written in English, both active voice and passive voice can be used when appropriate, and photo captions often benefit from present tense. Numbers are preferred to be written with full letters “one”, “twenty”, “3 million” rather than 3,000,000 if possible, and dates “20th century” rather than “20th” or “twentieth”, “8 November 2016” or “November/Nov. 8th, 2016” rather than “November/Nov. 8th, 2016”…


Example 6:



A Clinton supporter from Milwaukee attends her election night rally in New York on 8 November 2016. Photograph: Adrees Latif/ Reuters

(Source: https://www.theguardian.-com/-us-news-/2017/nov/09/one-year-later-trump-takes-a-grand-tour-of-asia-as-clinton-visits-wisconsin-finally)


Schmidt & Bùi (2013: 55) state that photo captions in Vietnam’s museums are no exception; caption writers should pay attention on their writing techniques: the direct conversational style should be applied; active sentences are used if possible; captions should consist of short sentences, and avoid using unfamiliar terms or terminologies.


2.3. Errors in translation


In Pym (1992: 279-281), errors in translation are considered as a manifestation of a defect in any factors entering into the skills in translation. He then categorizes translation errors as two types: Binary translation errors are complete incorrectness of translation; and non-binary translation errors are not totally wrong, and can be improved. He adds that there are various causes of translation errors such as lack of comprehension, inappropriateness to readership and misuse of time, and they involve different levels as language, pragmatics and culture.


As cited in Pham (2018: 23), translation errors can be viewed from two different standpoints: In the standpoint of equivalence: Translation errors can be considered as non-equivalence between source text and target text, or non-adequacy of the target text (Koller, 1979), and then translation errors are described as (1) significant (unmotivated) mismatches of denotational meaning between source and target text (subdivided into omissions, additions and substitutions), and (2) breaches of the target-language system (e.g. orthography, grammar) (Hatim & Mason, 1997); and in the functionalistic approach: Translation errors are defined as “an offence against (1) the function of the translation, (2) the coherence of the text, (3) the text type or text form, (4) linguistic conventions, (5) culture- and situation-specific conventions and conditions, (6) the language system” (Seguinot, 1990).


For the study purpose of this paper, we focus on both binary and non-binary translation errors by Pym and for the academic training purpose, the research data is processed in the viewpoint of equivalence.


2.4. Models of error analysis in translation


Error analysis is a common procedure widely employed for research in the field of language learning and teaching. Corder (1967: 167) argues that analyzing learners’ errors is really meaningful because it reveals how the learners achieve the language and what strategies and procedures are applied by the learners in discovering the language.


As cited in Dastjerdi & Abdolmaleki (2012: 76), the linguistic taxonomy of errors by Keshavarz (1993) provides a classification including syntactic-morphological errors and lexico-semantic errors. This taxonomy is somehow similar to that of Hendrickson (1979), in which he categorizes errors into grammatical errors and semantic errors. Thus, Keshavarz (1993)’s linguistic taxonomy of errors focuses on the meaning and the structure of the original and translation texts. That is a reason why Keshavarz defines error analysis as a procedure used by both researchers and teachers which involves collecting samples of learner language, identifying errors, classifying them according to their nature and causes, and evaluating their seriousness.


Dastjerdi & Abdolmaleki (2012: 75) conclude that there are two significant models to classify translation errors: The first classification model for translation errors is proposed by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters in Australia (NAATI). The NAATI model (1997) has eight criteria: (1) Mistranslation, (2) Inappropriate vocabulary, (3) Incorrect punctuation, (4) Incorrect grammar, (5) Incorrect spelling, (6) Distortion of meaning, (7) Unidiomatic usage, (8) Stylistic infelicities. However, Gentile (1997) argues that these criteria are not transparent and the specific meanings of the sentences are often omitted when individual evaluators are interpreted. This model was upgraded to the more sufficient version in error classification at the levels of words, sentences and discourse by Baer and Koby (2003). The second model is suggested by the American Translation Association (ATA) (2010) as a set of criteria for classifying and grading errors. It includes 22 types of errors: (1) Incomplete passage, (2) Illegible handwriting, (3) Misunderstanding of the original text, (4) Mistranslation into the target language, (5) Addition or omission, (6) Terminology/ word choice, (7) Register, (8) Too freely translated, (9) Too literal/ word-for-word translation, (10) False cognate, (11) Indecision in word choice, (12) Inconsistent, (13) Ambiguity, (14) Grammar, (15) Syntax, (16) Punctuation, (17) Spelling, (18) Accents and other diacritical marks, (19) Case (upper case/ lower case), (20) Word form, (21) Usage, and (22) Style.


We think that the NAATI model with eight criteria is more convenient and saves time for the assessment of translation quality in a professional environment where the communication purpose is the privilege; and the ATA model refers to many more linguistic factors in details so it is quite applicable for translation training in an academic environment where learners are required to apply their linguistic and cultural knowledge in their translation products, and this model meets the communication purpose as well.


Thus, it is quite understandable when Dastjerdi & Abdolmaleki (2012: 76-77) combine the error analysis model by ATA and Keshavarz’s linguistic taxonomy of errors into a hybrid model in their study, in which they categorize translation errors into 4 major groups, including syntactic errors, semantic errors, pragmatic errors and translation-specific errors.


There have been researches on errors in tourism translation in the world. For example, Muñoz (2012) conducted a study of analyzing common mistakes in translations of tourist texts (Spanish, English and German) and pointed out that the texts were produced with a number of mistakes in grammar, spelling, lexis and semantics, pragmatics and discourse, omission, repetition and addition, and he explained that the causes of the mistakes were due to non professional and unskillful translators; and Dordová (2016) had a case study of Czech museum about translation into English and revealed that spelling and omission errors were occurred in most of the translated museum texts. In respect to photo captions, few researches have been conducted. Park (2015) examines differences between languages and cultures in how captions are used to limit the meaning of photographic images, and then to investigate whether these differences are reflected in translations of Korean photojournalism; he investigates cultural differences between US and UK, Korean, and Japanese media and realizes methods they use to limit photo captions; then, from a semiotic standpoint,he discusses how the differences are reflected in Korean-to-English and Korean-to-Japanese translation strategies.


In Vietnam, no similar researches have been done inspite of few existent ones on translation errors in tourist texts. Recently, Tam Nguyen, Hong Nguyen, and Long Tran (2017: 90-104) conducted a research on the use of English in public signs in some tourist areas in the North of Vietnam, employing the error analysis model combined from Keshavarz (1993) and Muñoz (2012), focusing on 4 problematic factors, namely (1) spelling and grammar, (2) vocabulary choice (words and structures), (3) translation contents (ideas), and (4) pragmatics and genes.


It can be seen that most of the previous studies revealed errors in translation in respect to various aspects of translation included in the second model by ATA. And no researches have been found in translation of photo captions in Vietnam’s museums.  


The data was captions accompanied with the Vietnam War photos collected at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. These captions are bilingually written in Vietnamese and English. Vietnamese is considered the source language and English the target one.


In our translation training program, this museum is one of the favorite places for students to perform their fieldwork. As translation trainers, we have taken the students here for serveral times. We decided to collect one hundred Vietnamese-English photo captions randomly here December 2017. We captured the photos and their captions for a better understanding and analysis later.


We typed the captions in words so that they could be listed in a parallel corpus for better comparison and contrast.


The parallel corpus was first processed for errors and their categories using the error analysis model provided by the ATA (2010). First, one of the author, as a language teacher, identified the errors in the English translation versions. Simultaneously, we requested a translator who worked in the edition department in Ho Chi Minh City Television Station to help identify the errors in the English translation versions. The second author, as a translation trainer and a part-time translator, compared their results to come to the final decisions.


The identified translation errors in the one hundred caption were classified into 22 error types and then grouped into the four broader groups of syntactic, semantic and pragmatic errors for a better holistic view.


In this phrase, for more precise and comprehensive analysis of errors, we employed the hybrid model designed by Dastjerdi & Abdolmaleki - a combination of the ATA’s categorization of error types and Keshavarz’s linguistic taxonomy of errors as follows. 


Table 1: The Hybrid Model of Error Types byDastjerdi & Abdolmaleki (2012: 76-77)


Syntactic  Errors


Semantic Errors


Pragmatic Errors


Translation-Specific Errors



In this model, they list 20 types of errors and put away the two errors illegible handwriting and indecision in word choice. This is acceptable for our research data because all the captions are clearly-typed and there are no blanks in their English translation. Besides, this hybrid model of error types is more convenient for our study under both the academic and communicative perspectives.


All the one hundred photo captions were analyzed into 110 sentences. Most of them consisted of one sentence and some of them consist of 2 sentences. None of them had three sentences. Instead, some consisted of a long complex sentence.


In Example 7 below, there is only one simple sentence with a definite past time and the phrase “thủ đô Xô-phia” may be unknown for some viewers so it is further explained with some information in the bracket.


Example 7:



Ngày 12/8/1957, chủ tịch Hồ chí Minh thăm Vườn trẻ ở thủ đô Xô-phia (Cộng hoà nhân dân Bun-ga-ri).

(Suggested translation: President Ho Chi Minh visited a kindergarten in Sofia, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, on 8 August 1957.)

(Source: War Remnants Museum, HCMC)


An important fact is that some photo captions in Vietnamese in the research data have sentences to provide main information and more information about the situations/ background of the picture’s event; and they have no lead-in. However, in many captions, both the types of information are included in a long complex sentence.


Example 8:



Tháng 7/1965, Đại hội Thế giới vì Hòa bình, Độc lâp Dân tộc và Giải trừ quân bị họp tại thủ đô Helssinki (Cộng hòa Phần Lan) đã tổ chức mít-tinh đoàn kết với nhân dân Việt Nam chống Mỹ xâm lược.

(Suggested translation: The World Congress for Peace, National Independence and General Disarmament, held in Helsinki (The Republic of Finland) in June 1965, organized a meeting to show their solidarity with the Vietnamese people in the fight against the US aggression.)

(Source: War Remnants Museum, HCMC)


This Vietnamese photo caption consists of one long sentence whose subject and object are long phrases with subordinate clauses. Similarly, many of the photo captions in the research corpus frequently use noun phrases, verb phrases and complex sentences, and past actions (expressed through a concrete date or year) are the focus of the photos related to historical objects and events.


It is a remarkable feature for translation from Vietnamese into English. Long sentences should be cut into shorter ones and still have their messages remained.


Photo captions in Vietnamese share the same language features with those in English. However, in Vietnamese, the tenses are not a focused factor but expressions of the time of the actions in the images are indicators for the use of tenses in their English equivalents. It is another thing for consideration in translation.


Errors were found in 103 sentences. The erroneous sentences made up 93.63% of the parallel corpus. In concrete, 340 errors wereidentified, including 208 syntactic errors (68.5%), 87 semantic errors (28.5%), 22 pragmatic errors (7.3%) and 23 translation specific errors (7.5%).


Based on the hybrid model mentioned in the research methodology, the four types of errors are particularly analyzed in details as follows:


Table 2: The frequency of syntactic errors





















As indicated in Table 2, among the four syntactic errors, the grammar oneswere the most frequently in the translated photo captions. In addition, the syntax errors (19.71%) and punctuation errors (17.31%) were found with noticeable percentages.


Table 3: The frequency of semantic errors





Addition or omission



Terminology, word choice



Too freely translated



Too literal, word-for-word translation



False cognate






Accents, other diacritical marks



Case (upper case, lower case)



Word form










No errors were found in the two categories of false cognate, and accents and other diacritical marks. The three most frequent categories of the other seven semantic errors in the research corpus were omission or addition, word choice, and spelling errors. Some basic errors related to word form, freely translated, ambiguity, and casewere sometimes committed. Below are some examples to illustrate the typical syntactic and semantic errors:


Example 9:



Ngày 19/3/1966, thanh niên, sinh viên Liên Xô và các nước Á, Phi, Mỹ La Tinh đang học tại MosCow mít-tinh hưởng ứng “Tuần lễ ba châu lục đoàn kết với Việt Nam”

Youths and students of the Soviet Union and the countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America were studying in Moscow meeting to answer “A three-continent-week with Vietnam”, March 19, 1966.

Suggested translation: The youth and students of the Soviet Union and other countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, who were studying in Moscow, had a meeting to support “A week of three continents in solidary with Vietnam” on March 19th, 1966.


In the Vietnamese version, the sentence structure was “Subject + Predicate”, in which the subject is a complex one with Noun Phrase + Present participle construction; and the predicate consists of a verb phrase with the head verb “mít tinh” (had a meeting). There was lack of comprehension in this structure, which led to binary translation errors (as called by Pym, 1992: 279). The translator chose a non-equivalent structure whose subject was a noun phrase; and he/she wrongly identified the head verb in the predicate, i.e. “study” (học). Thus, the syntactic error in the translation completely changed the message of the photo. In addition, several grammar errors wererevealed in the caption such as youths, the countries from Asia…, and inappropriate prepositions, and no preposition before the date of the event in the photo. “Thanh niên”, referring to a group of young people, should be translated into “the youth” instead of “youths” (Oxford Learners’ Dictionary, 2017); “các nước Á, Phi…”, referring to some unidentified countries, should be translated into “countries” without article “the” (Alexander, 1988). The two inappropriate articles applied to the translation which were “youths and students of the Soviet Union” and “countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America” should be translated into “the youth and students from the Union of Soviet” and “countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America” respectively (Alexander, 1988). The wrong use of articles and prepositions were identified as the usage errors. Also, another error was that no preposition was used before the date. It should be “on March 19th, 1966”.


In the semantic perspective, some non-binary errors are found. For example, “đoàn kết” in the context of the source text means “solidarity” and had an important role to express the content of the message but it was omitted in the translation, considerably reducing the photo’s impact on the viewers’ feeling. Also, “hưởng ứng” referred “to encourage/ support” but it was translated into “to answer”, i.e. to react to a question or situation (Oxford Learners’ Dictionary, 2017). As a result, it could not be considered a good English equivalent. Besides, the event in the wartime namely called “Tuần lễ ba châu lục đoàn kết với Việt Nam” was literally translated, leading to a wrong message. In this case, the translation errorswere omission, word choice, and word-for-word translation errors.


Example 10:


Ngày 22/9/1967, nhân dân Cộng hòa Mail mít-ting ủng hộ cuộc kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước của nhân dân Việt Nam.

People in Republic of Mail rallied, supporting the resistarce against the US, for national salvation of the Vietnamese people, Sep 22, 1967.

Suggested translation: The people of the Republic of Mail rallied for their support to the Vietnamese people’s anti-US resistance for national salvation on Sep 22th, 1967.


In this caption, different errors were found such as grammar (no article “the” before the definite noun phrase, no preposition “on” before the date as underlined in the suggested translation), usage (“supporting the resistarce” à “to support the resistance” to clarify the purpose their rally), punctuation (“…against the US, for national salvation” à“the anti-US resistance for national salvation” because it is a chunk to tell about a type of struggles), and spelling (“resistarce” à “resistance”).


Example 11:


Quang cảnh Cầu Bãi Cháy ở phía Bắc tỉnh Quãng Ninh về đêm. Cầu được xây dựng với sự tài trợ của Chính phủ Nhật Bản.

The night scene of Bai Chay Bridge in the north of Quang Ninh Province. This bridge was built with the sponsor of Japanese government.

Suggested translation: The scence of Bãi Cháy Bridge at night – The brigdge, located in the north of Quãng Ninh (a province along the Northeastern of Vietnam), was built under the sponsorship of the Japanese government.


This is one of the very few two-sentence Vietnamese photo captions in the corpus. As mentioned in the literature review, the cutlines in a photo caption should be in complete sentences and the first sentence should be in present tense when the image in the photo captures the moment in time. Thus, the chunk “Quang cảnh Cầu Bãi Cháy ở phía Bắc tỉnh Quãng Ninh về đêm” should be translated into a photo headline “The scence of Bai Chay Bridge at night” and replace the punctuation mark “.” with a “-” or translated into a complete sentence “This is the scence of Bãi Cháy Bridge at night” so that the mark “.” is considered appropriate in this context. The phrase “the sponsor of Japanese government” might cause an ambiguity that an individual in the Japanese government sponsored the construction of the bridge instead of the government itself as a unit. Also, some non-binary errors were found such as no article “the” before “Japanese government”, and wrong preposition “with” (it should be“under”).Besides, the proper name “tỉnh Quãng Ninh” is quite familiar in the Vietnamese culture but it may be unfamiliar with viewers who are foreigners with sufficient knowledge about Vietnam’s geography. Thus, some addition is neccessary in the translation in English, i.e. “Quãng Ninh (a province along the Northeastern of Vietnam).


As Lewis (1994) points out in one of his tips of writing captions - keeping tense logical, the time and the event captured in a photo must be exactly analyzed. If not, the message will be wrongly transferred as in the following example.


Example 12:



Ngày 25/8/1969, đoàn đại biểu thanh niên sinh viên Việt Nam dẫn đầu cuộc tuần hành của 650 đại biểu thuộc 78 nước trong cuộc gặp gỡ “Thế giới của thanh niên và sinh viên vì thắng lợi cuối cùng của nhân dân Việt Nam” tại Helsinki (Phần Lan).

The Vietnamese youth and college student delegation has led a march of 650 delegates from 78 countries in the meeting “The world of youth and college student for the Last Victory of the Vietnamese people” in Helsinki, Finland since August 25, 1969.

Suggested translation: Vietnam’s youth and student delegation led a march of 650 delegates from 78 countries in the meeting “The Youth and Student World for the Vietnamese People’s Final Triumph” in Helsinki (Finland) on August 25th, 1969.)


The picture was about an event of a delegation of young people at a definite past time and their action finished and had no relation to the present. Therefore the use of present perfect “has led…. since…” was incorrect, causing a serious misunderstanding that this delegation has conducted this event until now. Besides, some errors were found in word choice: “college student” à “college” was redundant in this context; “the last victory” à “last” may means “the most recent one”, and “victory” usually refers to “a success in a struggle” (CollinsCOBUILD Dictionary, 2017)so the phrase “the last victory” didn’t successfully reflect all the efforts of the Vietnamese people for an end of the Vietnam war. The phrase “final triumph”, refering to all the achievements of the Vietnamese people with their great efforts during long-term struggles, would be a better equivalent in this context for the chunk “thắng lợi cuối cùng của nhân dân Việt Nam”.


Table 4: The frequency of pragmatic errors





Misunderstanding of the original text



Mistranslation into the target language













As shown in Table 4, there were no register errors. However, errors related to misunderstanding of the original text errors (40.91%) and mistranslation into the target language (40.91) were revealed the most. Zhou (2015: 300) argues that mistranslations are easily found in most translation versions and one of the most common reasons is the misunderstanding of the original text. It is easy to understand because they are somehow interrelated.


Example 13:


Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh ký Tuyên bố chung của Hội nghị 81 Đảng Cộng sản và Công nhân Quốc tế họp ở Mát-xcơva (Liên Xô, năm 1960).

President Ho Chi Minh signed The Joint Statement of The International Conferences of 81 Communist and Worker’s Parties in Moscow, Soviet Union in 1960.

Suggested translation: President Ho Chi Minh signed the Joint Statement of the Conference of 81 Communist and Workers Parties in Moscow (USSR, in 1960).


The chunk “Hội nghị 81 Đảng Cộng sản và Công nhân Quốc tế”, referring to one conference with the attendance of 81 relevant parties,was misunderstood into many conferences by 81 attending parties, then this caused a serious mistranslation. Vietnamese nouns are not inflected to a plural form but English ones are. It is a major cause for syntactic errors. Besides, there were errors about the case (“the” should be in lower case), and the terminology (the right term is Communist and Workers Parties).


Table 5: The frequency of Translation – specific errors





Incomplete passage










Translation specific errors found in the research corpus were ones of inconsistency. For example, the translator expressed the dates of historical events in various forms: (1) “April 24th, 2010”, (2) 29th- March - 1999, (3) August 20, 2017, and (4) Feb 15, 1970. Some illustrations are provided in the following captions.


Example 14:


Thư pháp của Ban Tổ chức Dự án Yamazaki Hiroaki ngày 8/10 (Nhật Bản) tặng Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chiến tranh nhân dịp Kỷ niệm 25 năm thành lập Hội Hữu nghị Việt Nam - Nhật Bản Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, ngày 20/8/2017.

Calligraphy given by the Executive Committee of the 10-8 Hiroaki Yamazaki Project (Japan) to the War Remnants Museum in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Ho Chi Minh City’s Vietnam - Japan Friendship Association on August 20, 2017.

Suggested translation: The   Calligraphy is pre-sented to the War Remnants Museum by the Executive Committee of the 10-8 Hiroaki Yamazaki Project (Japan) on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of HCMC’s Vietnam - Japan Friendship Association on August 20th, 2017.

Đoàn Đại biểu Đảng Cộng sản Nhật Bản tra tặng tư liệu cho Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chiến tranh ngày 28/01/2000.

The Japanese Communist party delegation give the documents to the War Remnants Museum on January 28th, 2000.

Suggested translation: The Japanese Communist Party delegation presented some documentation to the War Remnants Museum on January 28th, 2000.

Chủ tịch Đảng Cộng sản Nhật Bản đến tham quan Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chiến tranh ngày 21/9/1999.

Chairman of the Japanese Communist party visited the War Remnants Museum on September 21th, 1999.

Suggested translation: The Chairman of the Japanese Communist Party visited the War Remnants Museum on September 21st, 1999.


  1. 5.C
    1. 5.1.Major findings
    2. 5.2.Recommendations


Based on the major findings and discussion, we can see that photo captions in Vietnamese have language features similar with those in English. However, the length and the time expressions in Vietnamese captions are two important factors to be considered in translation into English.


Translation errors are found in most of the 100 photo captions in the parallel corpus (93.63%). The errors are classified into four errors groups, namely syntactic, semantic, pragmatic and translation-specific.


Among them, the syntactic group has the largest number of errors and the semantic one comes the second. Thanks to the hybrid model of error analysis, the paper points out that most of the syntactic errors are involved with the wrong use of tense, articles, prepositions, and sentence patterns due to the wrong identification of sentence elements and their modifications; and most of the semantic errors are addition or omission, word choice, and spelling categories. Although not many pragmatic and the translation-specific errors are found, they reflect the translators’ lack of thorough analysis of the source language - Vietnamese, cohesion in their writing style, leading to misunderstanding of the source text and mistranslation in the target text as well as inconsistency in translation in English.


The issue of wrong captioning of photographs posesa serious problem as it confuses readers (Ijeh, 2015: 65). The findings in this paper serve as a warning for translators, museum owners and tourism organizations about the quality of the translation of tourist texts in general and photo captions in museums in particular. Most of the errors recognized in the research are grammar, syntax, spelling, omission or addition, word choice, misunderstanding of the original text, and inconsistency mistakes. The findings are quite consistent with those of previous researches as mentioned in the literature review.


For museum owners or administrative boards of museums, the language use in the museum is one of the most important factors for the substanable developement of museums. However, the investment in the language use in general and the language in photo captions has not been sufficient and effective. Thus, to increase the number of visitors, especially international ones, relevant authorities and museums should cooperate with each other to have specific guidelines publishedon writing as well as translating photo captions in museums, make appropriate policies to spiritually and materially encourage translators in the field of tourism, and give them favorable conditions for their professional improvement as well. It’s not difficult for Vietnam’s museums to reference guidelines on photo captions and labels by well-known museums in the world in this 4.0 era.


For translators in the field of tourism and translation students at universities in Vietnam, the lack of skilled and training professionalism and negligence of translators are reasons for such a poorquality translation of photo captions displayed in museums. Translation errors are sometimes considered as embarrassing errors or little ones due to the translator’s negligence. However, they may cause big problems in case the message of a photo displayed in a museum wrongly understood.Some recommendations for translators and translation learners at universities in Vietnam to increase the quality of photo caption translation in museums are: (1) It is essential for them to be familiarized with the specific features of museum language;(2) They should have a double-check before releasing their final versions, especially checking the spelling of names, places, and dates, etc. to avoid some basic errors such grammar, spelling mistakes, punctuation, and inconsistency mistakes; (3) They should have a thorough analysis of the Vietnamese syntax and attempt to apply appropriate equivalents in the translation; (4) Word choice and misunderstanding the original text errors are due to the insufficient Vietnamese vocabulary competence of translators so they should master Vietnamese lexicals in the fields of tourism and history as well as carefully conduct sufficient research on various sources for accurate terminologies or terms; (5) A good photo caption should be translated with short and concise content so they should trim away any inessential information, use simple active verbs and simple words, reduce unfamiliar words, and defining technical terms (because the readers are most of non-specialists in the field), avoid compound and complex sentences, keep short and well-organized paragraphs, and try to convey the message of the photo in the most understandable and communicative to the readers.


The paper has conducted a small-scaled research on a parallel corpus of Vietnamese-English photo captions collected at a popular museum in Vietnam. Its results point out some similarities and differences in the writing styles of English and Vietnamese photo captions, identify and analyse common errors in their translation, then give some measures to deal with such shortcomings. The research results provide some applicable recommendations to improve the quality of translation in tourism as well as a useful reference for translation training at the tertiary level in Vietnam.






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