A Bad Translation Can Be Expensive

costs of poor quality

Unprofessional translation can be fatal for a company on the market. If a bad salutation or bad translation comes under the magnifying glass of the media, it is often already too late. This then ends with loss of reputation and business damage. The food giant McDonald’s, who wanted to appeal to the Asian ethnic group in Minnesota, was a recent example. 64,000 speakers of the Hmong language met a slogan every day, which in their opinion was senseless. “Coffee gets you up, breakfast gets you going,” appeared in the translation on the advertising panels without spaces between the words and because of the chosen language it sounded completely unnatural.

If the editor of the translation is not an expert in the source language or target language, his work can cause more harm than good. Most mistakes occur when the translations are carried out by so-called non-native speakers, since mistakes can occur due to insufficient knowledge of the language. One proof of this is an advertisement at one of the Italian airports, which is supposed to impart the efficiency and punctuality of the airport offer in order to increase the reputation of the airport. The clumsy advertisement shows banknotes, folded to paper aircraft, orbiting a modern terminal. Unfortunately, the advertisement was endowed with a 100-word-long text, which was unfortunately completely unclear and grammatically questioned. “A growth without comparison” (this should be said: growth without comparison). The growth is used in the English language without articles, when the article is used (a growth) then the term is used in medicine and means a bump, sprouting or ulcer.

A Frenchman, sales manager for an international company, was asked for his opinion, and he believed that he had a high level of knowledge of the English language. He admitted that the translation was inadequate, but only when he saw the word at the end of the text. The word “catchment area” was extremely suspicious. “Really a strange expression, surely wrong, is not it?” He asked. But it was not so. Actually, the word “catchment” was one of the rare remarks in the text mentioned.

Let’s look at what he has overlooked:

  • The only airport is the Trans European Network. Translation: The only airport the EU wants for the trans-European transport network.
  • 9.3% increase of passengers. Translation: 9.3% more passengers.
  • The shopping mall with the greatest Fashion designers of the Made in Italy sector. Translation: The shopping center with the most famous fashion designers in the Made in Italy area.

While no one was concerned with the correctness or incorrectness of the translation at the airfield, this advertising is a clear example of the reaction that customers of a translation can make when they are not able to assess the quality of the translator. A poor translation can be a lot more expensive than the price of the translation itself. Let’s think of the price of the advertising space on the mentioned airfield and keep the idea of the contrasting effect of a refined appearance which the airfield actually wanted to communicate.

Translations with low quality can also have consequences for individuals. The 2003 study of a China pediatric academy showed that two out of three Chinese translations in the health sector have clinical consequences. These can lead to a misunderstanding of the operation of plants and products and thus we risk not only operational errors, but also serious injuries to humans. The greater the investment, the more important is a proper expert selection (the translator) and timely feedback from independent, highly educated native speakers.