Imprecise language use can be fatal for a company on the foreign market. By the time someone spots a bad translation, it’s often too late and the damage is done. This ends up with a loss of reputation and business damage on both sides.
One such popular case is the food giant McDonald’s. Wanting to address the Hmong ethnic group in Minnesota with its new advertising in the Hmong language, the translators failed to culturally adapt the original English slogan into something that will be less meaningless to the Hmong people.
They used a translation of the slogan “Coffee gets you up, breakfast gets you going,” which appeared on advertising panels with no spaces between words, and because of the chosen language style, it sounded completely unnatural to this Asian ethnic minority, thus the campaign ended unsuccessfully.
If the editor/proofreader of the translation is not an expert on the source or target language, his work can do more harm than good. Most errors occur when the translations are carried out by so-called experts who are not native speakers, since it is easier to make mistakes because of the lack of knowledge of the language.
Proof of this is an advertisement that appeared across Italian airports recently. The clumsy advertisement shows banknotes folded into paper planes that orbit a modern terminal. Unfortunately, the advertisement was equipped with a 100-word text, which unfortunately was completely unclear and grammatically questionable. Part of it went like this:
The only airport wanted by the EU for the Trans European Network.
9.3% increase of passengers.
The shopping mall with the greatest Fashion Designers of the Made in Italy sector.
Any good English speaker will notice the clumsy use of different words: ‘wanted’, ‘increase of’, ‘greatest Fashion Designers of the Made in Italy sector’… what were they thinking.
Would you trust a company that tries to cut costs on simple and inexpensive things like hiring a native translator or expert editor/copywriter to deliver the right language and meaning of the original thought while spending thousands on advertisement space and materials? Imagine what are the other corners they cut in their services.
No one person at the airport was concerned much for the accuracy or incorrectness of the translation, so the advertisement became a clear example that a bad translation can be much more expensive than the price of the translation itself. So much money spent on advertising space, but not a dime was given for a professional language expert. That is highly unprofessional.
Low quality translations may also have consequences for individuals. A study published in 2003 by an American pediatric academy showed that two in three translations in the health sector have clinical consequences. These can lead to a misunderstanding of the operation of equipment and products and thus lead to risks of operating errors, and serious injuries to people.
The greater the investment, the more important is the right choice of the language expert (the translator) and the timely feedback from an independent, highly educated native speaking proofreader.