3 Reasons Translations Fails Are Good For A Laugh, But Bad For Business

There are a ton of websites displaying how tricky it can be to master translations. Sometimes, the meaning gets lost in the process. Or, as these examples show, it disappears entirely.

Reading such translations on a bad hair day can bring a smile to your face and help you get your groove back but such shoddy work isn’t good for business.

Bad Translations Cost Business

Do you know what it feels to be served with “Chicken rude and unreasonable”? Certainly, hilarious, if you’re sitting in front of your computer and looking at this image.

Will you still be amused if such a menu were served to you in a small town restaurant in China? Perhaps, not. It’ll likely kill your appetite, adding another reason in your long list to not explore the world and stick to packaged foods from brands you know.

And we all know that a confused customer is rarely a paying one.

Bad Translations Hurt Brands

Bad translations can damage your brand. Coca Cola’s attempts to expand into China during the first part of the 20th century are a famous case.

Someone transliterated the company’s name with the characters 蝌蝌啃蜡 (kē kē kěn là), a rough approximation of how Coca Cola is to be pronounced. It wasn’t a good idea. Each Chinese character has a sound and a meaning. The sound of the characters was OK, but the meaning went horribly wrong.

When translated into Chinese, it meant “bite the wax tadpole.” The fiasco was huge. It took Coca Cola many years to convince the Chinese their product was safe and enjoyable to drink.

Now Coca Cola’s Chinese name is 可口可乐 (kě kǒu kě lè) which, when translated into English, means “to permit mouth to be able to rejoice.” It’s long, but a thousand times better than eating the wax tadpoles.

Bad Translations can Wreck Lives

Willie Ramirez is a Cuban-American. In 1980, he was merely 18 years old when he had a hamburger at a newly opened Wendy’s. He was soon complaining of a headache. His health went downhill soon and he was taken to a South Florida hospital in a comatose state.

Because Ramirez’s family were ethnic Cuban-Americans and spoke Spanish better than English they described Ramirez’s condition in Spanish.

The doctors were English-speaking so an interpreter was called, who made a huge mistake.

“Intoxicado” was taken to be “intoxicated,” not “poisoned.” As a result, a wrong diagnosis followed and it turned the youth into a quadriplegic, ruining his life. The hospital wasn’t spared either. It was fined US $71 million.

Why Do Translation Mistakes Occur?

There are several reasons, including:

  • The translator is a newcomer to the profession.
  • The client can’t convey the requirement precisely.
  • Use of automatic translation tools.
  • The translator isn’t a native speaker of the target language.
  • A new translation agency is hired to save some money.
  • Shoddy proofreading.
  • Lack of subject expertise.

And more.

How To Avoid Poor Translations?

We wrote a post last week busting three translation myths with tips on how to avoid poor translations. It essentially boils down to working with agencies that hire only certified translator (such as Overseas DTP), finding the right people for the job, and not switching agencies to save pennies. That’s sound advice and it still (ahem!) holds true.

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