Lost in Translation: Bad Translation Can Cost Money and Reputation

Bad Translation

Companies work hard to develop trust among their clients and a respectable image but the results of their tiresome work can easily evaporate with just one translation mistake. According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, nearly half of the 572 senior executives interviewed acknowledged that mistranslations and content “lost in translation” have halted international business deals for their companies.

Can companies afford a relaxed approach to linguistic blunders? What do companies really lose with a language mistake, along with the meaning lost in translation?

Money Lost in Translation

UK-based online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe has analyzed the loss in sales from spelling mistakes online. According to the BBC, he measured the revenue per visitor to the website and found that the revenue was twice as high after an error was corrected. Projecting the results across the whole Internet retail universe, and keeping in mind the “conversion funnel” and the six seconds to capture the attention of a user on a website, this means that millions in revenue are lost online with single spelling mistake. Mr. Duncombe, director of the Just Say Please Group, has remarked that good communication on the Internet is essential to an online business and “99% of the time it is done by the written word.” Thus, there is not much room for language mistakes and awkwardly expressed sentences.

Reputation Lost in Translation

Mistranslations can negatively impact your reputation and in some cases the damage is only reparable through official intervention. The Thai Television Channel 7 had mistranslated several common Lao words inciting the negative emotions of Lao commentators and reawakening an ancient rivalry between the two countries (i.e., delivery room as “monsoon room,” red light as “light of power,” green light as “light of freedom,” train as “moving row of houses,” tissue paper as “sanitary pad,” and sanitary pad as “fabric amulet for keeping out blood”). The case had to be dealt at the inter-governmental level, and the Lao Ambassador in Bangkok had to intervene given the sensitivity of the issue. Offended Laotians have been very vocal on social media, seriously questioning the professionalism of Thailand’s Channel 7. “They can do better than this. There are many Lao language experts in Thailand. This is totally unacceptable”.

Somebody’s Life is on the Line

A mistranslation on a prescription drug label could prove lethal for a patient, and a poor translation of a machine manual could cause death to a factory worker.

Not having the proper expertise in language translation can be more than just embarrassing. Companies lose money, especially those with text heavy website dependent models. International disputes can occur and in the more severe cases, peoples’ lives can be on the line. The best way to remedy this risk? Make sure you contract high quality professionals and detail oriented translators.

This article is written by a professional writer, Ilaria Ghelardoni, associated with Ulatus.  

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