Knowing how to speak two languages is not the same thing as knowing how to translate. The translation is a special skill that professionals work hard to develop.
The importance of good translation is most obvious when things go wrong. We all have laughed at those hilarious images of signs in other countries that display poor translation, the conversion of words is normally so backward that you can’t even tell what the sign is saying in the first place.
Poor translations can be funny in some instances, but they are not so humorous when they negatively impact your business interactions with a foreign investor or provide wrong dosage instructions on a prescription medication bottle. It can also damage a company’s image and allow its marketing message to come across as offensive if cultural aspects were not taken into account during the actual translation. Being perceived as unprofessional can make international partners not want to do business with your company and it can also turn customers away from your products or services.
Just to show how damage a poor translation can be, here are examples of negative outcomes:
1) The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is one of the largest banks in the world. Yet, even such a large and successful company can hit roadblocks when they’re careless in multilingual translation. In 2009 their catchphrase “Assume Nothing” was translated in many global markets as “Do Nothing,” which isn’t really the kind of persuasive pitch a marketing campaign generally likes to make. HSBC immediately had to spend millions rebranding in the affected markets.
2) Nintendo spark protests in Hong Kong over their decision to abandon the Cantonese name for the Pokemon character Pikachu, in favor of the Mandarin name.
3) Tesla has also been in the spotlight for a Chinese translation that described the company’s Model X crossover car as offering "self-driving" or "autopilot" rather than the more accurate "automatic driver assistance."
4) Microsoft’s turn to make amends for poor translation after the company’s translation service, Bing, translated ‘Daesh’ (the Arabic name for the terrorist organization known elsewhere as Islamic State or ISIS) as ‘Saudi Arabia.’ Needless to say, Saudi Arabians were none too pleased by the error.
Do you know any other examples of bad translations? Have you ever been in a position where a bad translation affected you or your business in any way? Let us know about it.