How many times have you looked at a bilingual restaurant menu, the services directory in your hotel room, a company’s web site or product packaging and noticed spelling, grammar, or terminology mistakes? How did that make you feel about the business that that documentation was attached to? Exactly; lack of attention to detail, sloppiness, poor presentation… it makes you think that they didn’t care enough to make sure that they put forth content of the highest quality for their clients and prospective customers. It can make you question just how attentive those brands or establishments really are to the quality of the service or product that they offer.

Granted, some bad translations can make for a good laugh among friends or colleagues, but translation mistakes can lead to misunderstandings, arguments and unnecessary tension between a company and its clients, two people or companies doing business together, different individuals and even countries.
Bad translations can also go beyond that; they can cause safety hazards, especially in the case of a product’s handling or installation instructions, or warning signs in a construction zone or along a path or cliff out in a provincial park or conservation area.

Many examples of such can be found online. Here are just a few, to help illustrate just how far the translated text can stray from the content and intent of the original message:
Tiny Grass
Euh… if you say so!
mixed nuts

Écrous = Nuts as in joining elements
(mechanical components)

fire extingusher
Need I say more?

Additional examples, in different languages, can be found on the following page, as well as many other web sites.

Other than being caused by typos or terminology mistakes, bad translations can also come from literal or ‘word for word’ translation. You can see, in this case of a French to English translation, how the result in no way represents the original meaning. (By the way, expressions do not translate; at least not in English and French. I can’t speak for other language comparisons.)

expressions do not translate

Which brings me to think about translation software… But that discussion is for another day.

From making no sense whatsoever to creating confusion and possible problems, bad translations can easily be avoided.

  • First of all, by employing a qualified and experienced translator or translation company of good reputation.
  • Or, at the very least, by seeking a second set of eyes to review the work of your translator = hiring a proofreader.

Believe me, it is well worth the extra time and money to ensure that you get the right people to do the right job for you. After all, you’ve worked so hard to get your business off the ground, to write your novel, to create your web site… Whether you’ve decided from the start to offer services in dual languages or if you’ve reached such a level of success that you now wish to expand to reach a larger audience, don’t you think that that same effort that you initially applied to your project should be carried forth in its translation and adaptation to a new market?

Food for thought.