Bad translations affect sales, credibility, and reputation. With globalisation on the rise, companies are scrambling to expand their business empires. Scholars and researchers are also trying to share valuable information with the world. Good translations are key to their success. If you want to reach more people, you need to take certain steps to properly and accurately translate your message and avoid bad translations — otherwise, all your hard work might just get lost in translation, too.
Why You Should Avoid Bad Translations for Your Business
Bad translations result in huge setbacks and possibly complete failure. You can lose money, customer trust, and your good reputation.
Money Wasted on Bad Translations
Entire marketing campaigns have crumbled due to bad translations. HSBC’s “Assume Nothing” campaign launched worldwide to inspire people everywhere to use their banking services but instead, they inspired the opposite. “Assume Nothing” was improperly translated in many countries to be misunderstood as “Do Nothing”. HSBC eventually had to scrap their entire campaign. Not only was that money wasted, but HSBC had to invest another $10 million for a rebranding campaign.
Reputation Lost from Poor Translation
Perhaps the only thing worse than losing money is losing a good reputation. One mistake can lead your audience to question all of your information. A mistranslation can also lead to public outrage if you inadvertently offend your audience. Thailand’s Channel 7 news learned this the hard way. Their incorrect translations of several Lao words reawakened an ancient rivalry between their country and Lao. In the end, government officials had to intervene to restore peace.
Poor translations can also make you the laughing stock of a community. Ford’s infamous “Every car has a high-quality body” ad campaign flopped in Belgium. Why? Because, when translated, their slogan read, “Every car has a high-quality corpse.” An entire country enjoyed a good laugh, but at the expense of Ford’s reputation.
Sales Lost from Bad Translations
A UK consumer-based study asked participants what was most likely to damage their opinion of a brand. The overwhelming answer was misspellings and poor grammar. A staggering 43% of consumers view such mistakes as a huge turn-off. If you can lose nearly half of a consumer-base from a typo or a misplaced comma, think how much you can lose from a bad translation.
To win a customer, you must first win a consumer’s trust. Bad translations can make it blatantly obvious your company is not native to or familiar with their region. Consumers will question your ability to deliver your product or service if you are unable to communicate properly. A bad translation can convey you are not interested in them as much as you are about their money.
Importance of Translation Accuracy
A good translation can mean the difference between life and death. It sounds dramatic, but it is true. A bad translation of an equipment manual can result in serious injury or death. A mistranslated medical journal can result in a misdiagnosis. NPR recounts an incident that proved how a bad translation can destroy a life. An 18-year old boy was left paralyzed because “intoxicado” was misinterpreted by a bilingual staff member as “intoxicated” instead of “poisoned”. Small nuances in translation can make a big difference.
Similarly, scholars and researchers have a responsibility to ensure accuracy in their translated journals and reports. The scientific community relies heavily on others’ studies and findings to support their own research and experimentation. Your colleagues may end up wasting their time and effort based on your false information. A bad translation can have a domino effect that could undermine scientific advancement.
How to Avoid Bad Translations
Hopefully, you are not questioning your choice to expand to other countries now that you are aware of all the possible consequences of a bad translation. The solution is not to avoid translations. The solution is to avoid bad translations. But how do you do that? How do you make sure you get a good translation and not a bad translation?
Hire a Quality Translator or Translation Agency
Leave it to the professionals. Professional translating goes far beyond knowing how to speak a language. A native speaker may be able to speak the language, but it does not mean they know how to translate properly. The “intoxicado” example from earlier proves this point.
If you want to be taken seriously, you shouldn’t even consider machine translation. After all, machines only translate words. Machines fall short when it comes to style, tone, cultural influence, and underlying meaning. Google translation is very useful when it comes to basic translations like ‘Where is the bathroom?’. But can you depend on it to introduce your company or your ideas to the world? Perhaps you can. Or perhaps you end up as a case study on a list of translation blunders.
Provide Detailed Information and Instructions to Avoid Bad Translations
Even the best translators can only work with what you give them. Hence, you need to be thorough when preparing your reference material. Be sure to describe and include the following:
- Your target audience
- Specific requirements
- Preferred terminology
- Desired tone
- Translation Glossary
- Style Guide
Don’t Just Translate, Localise!
Localisation takes translation to the next level. Localisation takes into account cultural differences in phrasing, units of measure, currency, and more. As we learned before, you do not want to lose credibility over cultural errors. Such mistakes can cost you nearly half your audience and lots of revenue. To avoid bad translations, be sure you and your translator understand the difference between localisation and translation.
Get Your Translation Certified to Avoid Bad Translations
A certified translation service gives your translation a stamp of approval. You also receive a statement declaring your content is a true and accurate translation of the original. This certification puts your translation through the wringer to prove it will hold up in the real world. A translation certificate will give you an extra layer of validation that you and your audience will appreciate.
Bad translation is bad for business. Don’t waste your efforts on sub-par translations that will come back to bite you. Save yourself time, money, and embarrassment by hiring experienced, high-quality translators. You and the rest of the world will be happy you did.