The Rising Cost of Cheap Translation

It is not unheard of in the world of business to find mistakes in translation, but many underestimate how costly these errors can be. You are what you say, and your company’s reputation depends on this. When you get it wrong, it is not easy to repair the damage. The value of a professional translation and proof-reading service is essential for any company; even the tiniest of mistakes can carry with it disastrous financial as well as legal consequences.

Many companies work with a diverse work-force, with staff from various countries. When translation requirements emerge companies often feel obliged to ask their in-house staff for help, as it is perceived to be cheaper, and easier.

Unfortunately, being able to speak two languages is not the same thing as being able to accurately translate sometimes complex, often business critical content. Translation is a very distinctive talent that professionals work hard to perfect. Translating something word for word will not often work, as there are cultural and linguistic conventions that need to be taken into account for your translation to succeed in each new country and culture. You need to be sure to carefully convey the meaning of your message to each market that you are targeting.

The real importance of good translation and proof-reading is most obvious when things go wrong.

Here are our top 10 examples of costly translation errors from around the globe:

  1. HSBC Do Nothing – When HSBC’s tag-line “Assume Nothing” was mistranslated in various countries as “Do Nothing”, the bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage.
  2. Moses’ the Devil – When St. Jerome (the patron saint of translators) translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, he accidentally misread “karan” as “keren,” so instead of Moses having “radiance” on his head, this was mistranslated as “horned.” This error resulted in centuries of paintings and sculptures of Moses with horns, and the occasional offensive stereotype of the horned Jew.
  3. Out of Office – When officials in Swansea asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed. Unfortunately, the e-mail response said in Welsh: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated”. So that was what went up under the English version which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket.
  4. Moo or woo? – The famous catchphrase from The American Dairy Association, “Got Milk” was mistranslated in Mexico as: “Are You Lactating?” Offensive? Yes!
  5. Chicken Lickin’ – American poultry company ‘Perdue Chicken’ were one of the first to turn chicken from a commodity into a brand. Their original and catchy message: “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” was misunderstood in Spain as: “It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused” – not quite the same thing, I am sure you will agree!
  6. A Formula for Disaster – The mistranslation into Spanish of a baby formula product by Mead Johnson Nutritionals of Indiana forced 4.6million cans of the product to be recalled. If the product had been prepared as instructed, it could have led to renal failure, heart palpitations and even death according to the US Food and Drug Administration. The liability allegations for the company would have been colossal.
  7. Tantalising Toothpaste – In France, Colgate tried to launch a new tooth-paste called Cue. Little did they know that Cue was actually the name of a notorious French porno magazine!
  8. Scary Sweetcorn – Encouraging youngsters to eat vegetables is hard enough, but the folks over at the Jolly Green Giant brand learned this the hard way when they discovered their name had been translated into Arabic for the Saudi Arabian market as the “Intimidating Green Ogre.”
  9. Impregnating Pens – After Parker Pens had previous issues with leaky stationary, their well thought-our marketing campaign “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” was genius. Unfortunately though, this campaign did not work so well in Mexico, as they mistakenly rendered “embarrass” as “embarazar” in Spanish, so the new slogan splashed around Mexico was: It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”
  10. One Costly Word – When “intoxicado” was misinterpreted as “intoxicated” rather than “poisoned” – 18-year-old Willie Ramirez from Spain was treated at a Florida hospital for a drug overdose rather than for food poisoning. As Willie was actually suffering from an intracerebral haemorrhage, treating him for an overdose actually lead him to becoming quadriplegic. He received a malpractice settlement of $71 million.

The above examples all stress just how important it is to leave translation to the professionals.

DIY translations or those done by friends/colleagues may seem cheap at first, but they could prove extremely costly in the long run. Quality is not expensive, but corrections often are. Are you sure you have put your translation needs in the right hands?

Enjoyed this blog post?

Why not take a look at:
5 mistakes that deplete your translation budget

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