Translation Services – Their Reputation is Your Reputation

In January 2014, the Channel 7 News from Bangkok Broadcasting and Television ran a story regarding Laos. During the segment, they posted several translations of the Laotian language into Thai. This would have been fine had the translations been correct or even close. Instead, the Bangkok Post described the mistranslations: The program mistranslated delivery room as “monsoon room”, red light as meaning “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 uproar between the two countries was severe and the television executives had to meet with the Laotian ambassador to Thailand to apologize and smooth things over.

Like it or not, when you are translating documents into another language, you are putting your reputation in the hands of the translation service. The products that they produce will be the ones that your audience will associate with you and your products and services.

What is Quality Translation?

Quality is one of those things that is hard to describe. In fact, it is one of those unique characteristics that is often better understood by what it is not. According to the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, “Quality – you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is”.

Quality can mean that there is nothing lacking; there are no errors. Or, it can be something more ethereal, such as a customer’s sense of satisfaction. Within the world of translation, quality can be associated with what isn’t there, such as a lack of translation errors, the lack of cultural faux pas, and the lack of audience confusion. It can also be viewed in the positive: your audience received a document that accurately represented your information, your brand, and you.

Surprisingly, it is not always easy to recognize quality since we just expect it to be there. What is quickly identifiable is a lack of quality. Poor quality translations jump out and cause laughter, embarrassment, and loss.

When your channel to the global market is funneled through a translation agency, your reputation is directly tied to their ability to accurately represent your message.

When Poor Translation Damages Reputations

The European Commission’s Directorate General in Translation conducted a study that looked at the costs associated with poor translation. The found that in addition to the financial costs associated with processes and output, including the lack of timely delivery, product, or service, the main impact of poor quality translation was the negative impact it had upon the reputation of the company.

When a translation service is not accurate, you may be able to recoup some financial losses, but how far down the line can you go, and how do you calculate the loss of reputation and brand loyalty? In other cases, you may not know that a negative result was the consequence of poor translation. When your application is turned down, you will likely not hear that it was due to improper formatting; you will just receive your documents back: Denied. When nobody buys your product, you may not find out for a long time, if at all, that it was because your product translation was culturally irrelevant or offensive (consider the U.S. “Got Milk” campaign that was shunned in Latin America as it was translated “Are You Lactating”).

In the end, the time you spend vetting and choosing a translation agency that guarantees its work, employs highly-skilled and reputable translators, and has a history of excellence, will pay off huge dividends in the long-term. Remember, when great quality is present, you may not even notice it, and that is also the mark of a great translation service: text that is so natural that you cannot even tell it was translated.

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