Lost in Translation

Recently Google has unveiled plans to take its online translator to another level and combine it with mobiles to create what they are calling a “universal translators”. Their concept is that the user can speak into their device in their native tongue whist the receiver hears it on their own device in their own pre-selected language. It seems like science fiction is becoming science fact.

However, before we all rush out to do business across the world, it is important that we understand that the nuances of the spoken language can be lost in literal translation, resulting in a complete misunderstanding, and that whilst a slightly imprecise translation tool may be a useful if not entirely successful aide for the tourist abroad, it is unlikely to be appropriate for businesses to rely on such technology as part of their communications strategy.

In the past a number of businesses have been caught out with expensive translation mistakes. Here are just a few of the mistakes where literal translation has caused confusion and that some businesses would rather forget. Good for a chuckle though! Great thoughts from our friends at www.workplacetranslation.com

1. Parker Pens

We’re guessing Parker Pen would rather forget when they wanted advertisements in Mexico to translate as: “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” Seems a perfectly clear instruction? Unfortunately it was misinterpreted to mean something else entirely and the ad ran in Mexico read “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”.

2. Pepsi

The Pepsi slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” literally translated in Taiwanese became, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead” Not only a bit creepy but also culturally an insult.

2. Kentucky Fried Chicken

In China, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” became “eat your fingers off”, implying an action considered culturally rude and uncivilised.

3. Coors

Beer manufacturer Coors tried to translate its slogan, “Turn it loose”, into Spanish. It went horribly wrong when it was read as “Suffer from diarrhoea”.

4. American Airlines

To advertise their leather seats, American Airlines used the slogan, “Fly in Leather”, which translated in Spanish for the market in Mexico as, “Fly naked”.

5. General Motors

When General Motors introduced their Nova in South America, the company was unaware that “No Va” meant “It won’t go”.

So our advice, make sure your business translations are accurate and appropriate before you go public!

Myths about Translation and Translators

Often it appears that as translators we have to educate our clients to debunk the myths that seem to keep on circulating year after year. We can face an uphill battle from misinformed clients who have misconceptions about business translators and the translation profession. Here are some of the most common myths which you can maybe use to help your clients understand what you do as a translator.

Myth 1. Translators are just people who can speak two or more languages.
One of the most prolific myths circulating outside the translation industry. Just because someone knows two languages doesn’t mean that a person can translate with those languages. Translation is so much more.

Myth 2. Translators can translate any subject matter as long as the material is in a language they know.
Good translators usually specialise in only a few related areas. This allows them to keep up-to-date on changes in the vocabulary of their industry and keep them abreast of current trends. Inexperienced translators will often say they can translate anything thrown at them, but this is seldom true in the business world.

Myth 3. Translators can produce any translation with little or no turn-around time.
Clients often believe that for someone with language skills translation is a simple task that can be accomplished quickly. A good translator will educate the client and let them know that translators need sufficient time to produce a quality product. A quality translation requires three steps to get the best possible result and should not be rushed.

Myth 4. Translating is as easy in both directions.
Whilst there are translators that can do a good job translating in both directions, this is not as common as you would think. Translators usually have dominant languages and it is in the best interest of both the translator and client for the translator to translate into their dominant language.

Myth 5. A native speaker is always a better translator than a non-native one.
Translation requires discipline, study, and continual practice. Simply being a native speaker of a language does not ensure or guarantee that that person will be able to translate adequately.

Myth 6. Only translators who are members of a professional translation organisation can translate well.
There are many translators that do an excellent job without ever being members of any organisation. These organisations are not governing bodies over the worldwide translation industry and personally I’d say that a list of satisfied clients and references is a far better indication of a translator’s competency.

Myth 7. Translators can also interpret.
Translation is not interpretation and interpretation is not translation. They are not synonymous. Translation is written material; interpretation is speaking. These are two very different skill sets.

Now that we’ve debunked some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding translation, lets hope our clients can begin to place a value on the work we do.

Translation – An Undervalued Profession!

If you believe everything you read these days interpreters and translators will soon be replaced by machines!

The problem is that translation is more than just finding equivalents.  A good human translation is likely to include cultural elements and use these references in culturally relevant ways that are beyond even the most sophisticated software

Did you know that the simple three letter word “run” has 645 distinct meanings?  A machine translator chooses from the more common meanings – it cannot take account of the full cultural and textual context.  Software cannot interpret irony, or hyperbole which may work in one language and not in another.

Getting the Right Translator

So accepting that Google Translate is still stuck with infantile literal translations, the next step is to look at what we should be looking for in a translator and you may be surprised to learn that price comparison is one of the least important factors!

Translators should only translate into their mother tongue (and not from it).  Translation is an art and being fluent in a particular language is not the same thing as being able to translate it. In addition to formal qualifications you should look for someone with creativity and a gift for expression and the written word.

Experience in your industry is also important when you are looking for a translator, as unfamiliarity with vocabulary and terminology is often one of the biggest problems with poor translations. In the same way you wouldn’t hire a lawyer to do your marketing a legal translator, however experienced, may not be the best person to translate your marketing literature.

Proper review of the completed document is vital and therefore for important jobs, an agency may be a better choice than a freelancer. The agency are likely to have a more robust editing, QA and internal review procedure and the experience to give additional advice such as legal implications of a certain phrase.

Cheap Translation Costs More than Money

‘You are what you say’ and your reputation depends on effectively communicating your message to the world. If you get it wrong it is not always easy to repair the damage.   Most of the examples we see online are humorous and concern poor translation into or from English.  However, more seriously there are also many examples of mistranslation at a political and international level which have caused huge offence and been dealt with at an inter-governmental level.

Getting it Right First Time

Ensure that you take account of culture and context to ensure that your message is communicated.  Remember you get what you pay for so you should weigh up the potential long term cost to your business of economising on the quality of the translator.  As a bare minimum you should ensure that you have language and cultural resources in house to ensure that the translation matches your corporate message.  The language that your company uses is the wrapping around a valuable product so make sure that it doesn’t detract or distract from what you are really trying to say by getting the translation wrong.

After all you don’t want to end up on one of the many corporate translation gaff websites!