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Translations can be a funny thing!

How robotic and unprofessional translations can really get you in trouble!

The written word is a funny thing. It's a symbol of the sound you make with your voice. Different countries obviously have different sounds for the same object and actions - and that's tough enough, but you can really get into trouble if you only translate robotically (such as with translation machines) or without a proper (and especially professional) understanding of the language you are translating into.

If you are looking to approach foreign markets and need to communicate in a foreign language, then you would do well to take into account the hundreds of hours that you have spend on your marketing campaigns, or the literature describing your product or service. To have this wasted with a poor translation can be an expensive mistake.

Here are some mistranslations which are funny to read, but in a professional context you would not want to be on the other end of your enraged (or perhaps if you are lucky - bemused) boss' or client's response.

Take this one: When Coca-Cola first shipped to China, they named the product something that when pronounced sounded like "Coca-Cola." The only problem was that the characters used meant "Bite the wax tadpole". They later changed to a set of characters that mean "Happiness in the mouth." Pepsi didn't do any better when they translated their "Come alive with Pepsi" campaign into German and it ended up as "Come out of the grave with Pepsi."

No field is immune to mistranslation. Scandinavian manufacturer Electrolux translated their slogan into 'American' and came out with the rather ambiguous "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux." I think we have all read or come across poorly translated instructions in hotels and public places. In one hotel "The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid." - Although in Japan "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid." If you want to have a good time, then go to a Rome laundry where, in true Italian style, it offers "Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time." Though in Zurich a rather primmer hotel directs clients, "Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose."

All these, and many more, are the job of the translator to steer around. Certainly, when translating a technical or legal document, precision is vital. Translations have to be done by a professional who has a true understanding of the subject to which he or she is translating into.

In the worst-case scenario, what is at stake (and these have happened) is a mistranslation that has cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Even if it is not of such proportions, certainly you do not sell your services or products well when even simple explanations come over garbled or in poorly constructed sentences.

In a foreign market where you are already at a disadvantage, it is vital to have presentations, texts and instructions all clearly and appropriately translated.

ETLS International is one of the newest members of CADIA. They have established a network of several hundred professional translators all around the world. Their translations, into all languages and most technical areas, are always done by specialists who have an intimate knowledge of the subject they are translating.

First published in Cadia Update, August 2009

ETLS International provides a fast and accurate translation service into all languages and technical areas. Their translations are always done by professionals who have specific knowledge of the specialist field of expertise required. In this way they ensure quality work is provided to their clients.



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