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Protect Corporate Image and Avoid Embarrassment During Translation

In Turkey, two men were killed as a result of a missing dot over an "i" in an SMS message a letter missing on their cellphone. In a documentary, "Vietnam vet" was translated as "veterinarians from Vietnam". In a video, the "Society of Concerned Scientists" was translated in German as "Society of Worried Scientists", and in Russian as "Society of Horny Scientists". In an HR eLearning project, the expression "Quit upon reasonable notice" was translated as "Leave with a reasonable reason" by a professional translator with a PhD. When asked about his discrepancy, the translator stated that he had considered the (correct) possibility, but dismissed it as being ridiculous, because people cannot just quit" Then he gasped in shock, "Americans can just quit their jobs?!!?"

According to an SDL survey, translation and localization errors cause lost revenue in 80% of global firms. And 40% reported delayed product launches or fines for non-compliance. According to @International Services with 30 years in translation of major media and corporate projects, over 90% of independent video directors and producers risk their entire reputation and that of their clients - by placing full responsibility for foreign versions upon the shoulders of one single translator or voice talent. Also according to @International Services, the "burn rate" is 30% or higher, all because corporate staff cannot fully control projects in languages they do not speak.Yet there are ways to slash the burn rate from 30% down to 0%.


Even 5 minutes of googling a culture to make a lifestyle comparison against a proposed advertisement or commercial will avoid many common faux-pas.

  • A shipping company's promotional translation promised that any 200-pound purchase will be delivered by courier in a country where couriers ride bicycles.
  • A reseller's promo for giant screen TVs depicting blond children watching a massive home entertainment center in a country where everyone has black hair and no one has an entertainment center.
  • A bank's brochure to regions without stock options or money market accounts confused recipients with complex financial terminology.
  • A real estate investor's advert to sell homes and property bewildered targets in China where people cannot actually own land and may not comprehend the basics of investment.

Mirror reflection may be muddy

Every marketer, trainer, and videographer has only one chance to communicate, one first impression, one opportunity to be perfectly clear from the viewer's perspective. Double-meanings, colloquialisms, and potential negative impacts of translated marketing messages and product names merit consideration. An "EnviroMist" campaign touting a product as the "Breath of Good Health" may fall apart in Germany where "Mist" is a crass word for excrement renowned for its stink. And the principles touted in corporate ethics training videos may be destined for cultures that do not have a word for "ethics" in their language and live daily on bribery. A word-for-word translation of a Southern conversation using the colloquial "might could have been" dialect expression may cause international investors to fear that the entire town is illiterate.

Protecting the company image

Many creatives take a "hands-off" approach to translation, placing entire trust into one pair of hands. When company image is paramount, repeated exposure of a translation to focus groups or individuals can be very helpful. Yet on the downside, there will be as many opinions as there are people in a general audience, and a high percentage of those opinions may be wholly misleading.

There is one sure-fire way to guarantee protection of a company's image: by obtaining the opinion of a translation from two preferably three - persons who obtained their PhD's in a different fields from universities in the target country. PhD's tend not to have personal agendas; they think seriously, carefully, and clearly before reaching rational conclusions. These traits make PhD's unemotional reviewers and therefore reliable. It is vital that the company executive to listen carefully to the smallest detail in their report. A PhD will often be low-key in their expression, and many company executives gloss over soft comments such as "the video edits may be too quick" or "it sounds a bit exaggerated". PhD reviewers will use conditional tenses, because they rarely think in absolutes, yet every word in their reports will carry weight. These soft details often ignored by company management may become the exact cause of poor feedback or ridicule from the target audience.

So, although it may not be easy to find a great translator or translation company, it is easy to prevent damage to a company image and reputation caused by an erroneous translation by adding PhDs to the process. Not cheap, but easy.

(Broadway World)



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