Companies work hard to develop trust among their clients and a respectable image, but the results of their hard work can easily evaporate with just one translation mistake. According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, nearly half of the 572 senior executives interviewed acknowledged that mistranslations and content “lost in translation” have halted international business deals for their companies.
Translators Vs. Machine
Machine Translation has a lot of attractive qualities, being cheap, easy, fast. Translations are a lot like anything else you buy – if you want quality it’s going to cost more but it will last longer or at least you won’t have to go back and fix costly mistakes! In 2009, HSBC bank had to launch a rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase « Assume Nothing » was mistranslated as « Do Nothing » in various countries – it did something and that cost them $10 million for the rebrand. That’s an extreme case, but there are loads of little mistranslations that can cost companies big bucks even if it’s not part of a massive launch. Good translation sets a company up for success, bad translation sets them up to be a laughing stock.
- When Coca-Cola was first marketed in China, it was sometimes mistranslated as “Bite The Wax Tadpole”.
- When Colgate launched in France as “Cue” they didn’t realise they shared the same name as a French pornographic magazine.
- In Brazil Ford’s Pinto translated to “tiny male genitals” in Brazilian Portuguese.
- In China KFC’s tagline translated from “finger licking good” to the more cannibal-esque “eat your fingers off” which made the Chinese consumers a little apprehensive of the chain restaurant.
- Mercedes-Benz also made a blunder and came onto the Chinese market under the brand name « Bensi, » which means « rush to die. »
- “Got Milk?” The campaign that a lot of celebrities were apart of made by The American Dairy Association made the mistake of replicating the campaign and in Spanish-speaking countries, it was translated into « Are You Lactating? »
- Vicks entered into the German market without realising that the German pronunciation of “v” is “f” which made the companies name into a slang word for sexual intercourse.
“End your business” translations
The cost of these translations – both in the pocket and reputations
When it comes to translations, you must ask yourself can your business afford such a relaxed approach to linguistic mistakes? What will your company really lose with a language error, along with the meaning lost in translation?
Mistranslation could mean life or death in some industries such as if a prescription drug label is mistranslated it could prove lethal for a patient, and if a machine manual is badly translated that could cause the death of a factory worker.
Not only can a mistranslation be embarrassing, but you could also lose serious money from bad translation, especially if you have a text-heavy website dependent models. It can cause international disputes in some cases and in more severe cases people’s lives can be on the line.
The best way to remedy this risk? Make sure you contract high-quality professionals and detail oriented translators.
Translation errors are quite common all over the world, generally by companies who are trying to save money so they will contract an amateur translator rather than go for a professionally trained translator who is skilled in localisation.
When translating in business it’s important to remember that just being able to speak the language does not make someone a qualified translator or give them the ability to translate accurately. When you choose the cheapest option you are more than likely to get what you pay for and end up with a bad quality translation that may miss the entire message you are trying to send. For business and advertising, you should always use translation agencies and expert translators.