Why Culture Matters: Risks and Costs of Bad Translations

You’ll hear many linguists complain that bad translations have become the new industry norm. Too much time pressure, scanty pay, and a lack of regulation in many countries lead to a lot of botched jobs by inexperienced amateurs.

As a customer, you naturally have budget and time constraints, but are you 100% sure you understand what translation work is really about? Professional translators often spend hours researching the exact sense-for-sense meaning of a term (even if that word only pays a few cents – the same as your basic numeral or preposition).

Cheap, fast translation carries huge risks. That kind of approach will undoubtedly lead to poor quality, catastrophic sales, and serious image loss.  If you need more proof of this, here are a few examples from D. Robinson’s book Becoming a Translator (Routledge, 2003, p. 187):

“Clairol introduced the ‘Mist Stick’, a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that the German word ‘mist’ is slang for manure.

Electrolux tried to sell vacuum cleaners in the U.S. with the slogan ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’.

3M introduced its scotch tape in Japan with the slogan ‘It sticks like crazy’. The Japanese translator rendered the slogan as ‘it sticks foolishly’.

Olympia office products attempted to sell its ROTO photocopiers in Chile, but did not realize until too late that in Spanish ‘roto’ means ‘broken’ and can designate the Chilean lower class.”

It is extremely difficult to win the hearts and minds of customers. It’s even more difficult to get them to spend their hard-earned money. Tens of thousands of advertising dollars are poured into positioning your company in the marketplace and convincing people to buy your products or services. Are you willing to flush all that down the drain in order to save a few bucks on translation?

Why be the next laughing stock? Don’t risk your company’s reputation. Avoid such costly mistakes and use professional, culturally sensitive language services.

Profit from my unique combination of marketing know-how, language skills and intercultural acumen. Contact me here to get a free quote or a free transcreation sample for your slogan!


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