October 31, 2020

The Power of Translation

According to Nimdzi Insights, a localization research firm, 9 out of 10 users ignore a product if it’s not in their native language. That’s 90% of users, a percentage too significant to be ignored.

Power of Translation 1

As a medium scale or large business owner, at some point, you may start to consider expanding your business beyond geographical boundaries and across cultures. When you do, the language may be one of the barriers that make this a daunting process to embark on but it doesn’t have to be.

The art of translation is a bridge that can open your business up to whole new markets by transporting your product or service from one language to another.

Translators convert written text from one language (the source) to another language (the target), recreating the nuances and context from the source to make it fully understood by the target audience. A language is a complex system and this complexity increases with the transcreation of messages from one language to another, such nuances make translation a skill that requires proper professional training.

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture

Anthony Burgess

Why Translation Is Important

Most often, translation is not accorded the importance it deserves as a foundational component in a business expansion plan but is viewed as an afterthought. Nothing drives home the point of the power of translation like a translation mishap as has been experienced by a great number of multinational companies over the years. Most of the translation mishaps that have been recorded are translations from English into other languages.

Power of Translation 3

Although English is the lingua franca of the world, choosing not to make translations into other languages is tantamount to leaving money on the table. However, when companies choose to expand, the biggest mistake that can be made is not hiring a professional translation team and their brand message gets lost in translation.

Lost In Translation

Perdue Chicken

‘It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused’

Perdue, a foremost chicken processing company in the United States which has been around and family-owned since the 1920s committed a major brand blunder when it expanded into Spain and Mexico. 

Its tagline, ‘It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken’ – well-known and successful around the United States left a lot to be desired when billboards sprang up in Spain and Mexico showing its then CEO, Frank Perdue with a chicken and the tagline that directly translated into- ‘It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused’ (in Spain); and ‘It takes a virile man to make a chicken pregnant’ (in Mexico). 

Needless to say, it was a hilarious and embarrassing episode; hilarious for the public and embarrassing (not to add costly!) for the company. 


‘Every car has a high-quality corpse’ 

There is a long list of car manufacturers that have driven their names into the history books for translation mishaps though Ford, an American automaker, especially stands out for driving its sales underground when it launched in Belgium. 

Ford’s slogan, ‘Every car has a high-quality body’  literally translated into ‘Every car has a high-quality corpse’. Was it a morbid joke? Well, the plunging sale was a strong indication the Belgians didn’t find it funny.

The Case of Willie Ramirez – a $71 Million Interpretation Error

When translation mishaps involve a company’s brand or goods or services, sometimes it is comical, other times it is not. Ultimately, the damage could be undone, due diligence could be made and the campaign rolled out again, but when a translation fail occurs during a medical emergency, when human life is involved, the results are never comical. It can even be fatal and can be damaging in ways that can not be undone. 

In January 1980, as recounted by Gail Price-Wise, eighteen-year-old Willie was rushed to a South Florida hospital in a coma, was erroneously treated for a drug overdose but continued to bleed as a result of a misdiagnosed intracerebellar haemorrhage. By the time a neurosurgeon was called and emergency surgery performed, the damage had already been done and Willie was quadriplegic. 

The erroneous treatment for a drug overdose was due to the initial examination carried out by the physician and largely drawn from Willie’s medical history which the physician pieced together based on oral accounts from Willie’s mother, thirteen-year-old sister, fifteen-year-old girlfriend and his girlfriend’s mother, all of whom barely spoke English. 

The error was hinged on the Spanish word ‘intoxicado’ which means a person is sick because they have ingested bad food or drink which his family members suspected was the cause and tried explaining to the physician who understood it to be he was ‘intoxicated’, an English word that strictly refers to over ingestion of alcohol or drugs. 

The lawsuit that ensued awarded Willie a settlement of $71 million with the assumption that he would live to be 74 years old.

Sometimes the repercussions of getting translation wrong are far-reaching and last a lifetime.

Machine Translation Vs. Human Translation

With the rise of tech tools like Google Translate, Bing Translator and other automated translation tools, you certainly have the option to let these software do the work for you but depending on the nature of what needs to be translated, chances are you will be walking into a cultural landmine filled with translation traps. 

Yes, machine translation has come a long way but as yet, humans will trump machines when the intricacies of linguistics such as cultural connotations and local colloquialisms come into play. Humans are able to capture and convey excitement or other feelings which your brand message seeks to deliver. 

A team of professionals would cost you more in the short term but in the long term, when you want to ensure output that is reliable and quality of content is your greatest priority, your best bet are human translators who are trained professionals, are native speakers of the target language and have a detailed understanding of the culture.

The Real Cost of Translation

It is the nature of translation that its true cost only becomes known if there is a misstep. Such missteps generate negative publicity, wash precious funds down the drain, cost more resources to do damage control and get the campaign back on track; a loss that would have been averted by adopting a tailored approach, hiring a professional team of translators as opposed to outsourcing to automation or amateurs.

How To Save Your Business From A Mistranslation Trap

Language is not static but always evolving, as such it is crucial that you partner with a professional language team who have their pulse on the language as this would free up your time and energy to keep your pulse on your business.

At Babelos, our professional translators are rigorously selected, tested and evaluated to perform at the highest levels. In order to produce translations of the highest quality that read as if they were originally crafted in the target language, we utilize a three-pronged approach to every translation project. We assign a translator, an editor and a proof-reader to create each translation. This multi-tiered approach is a rigorous process that affords us to pay attention to detail as we help connect businesses with their customers.

Power of Translation 4

At Babelos, we offer language translation services and have a great deal of depth in Africa. We offer translation services in 28 well-known African languages and 21 of some of the rarest languages including Kabuverdianu, Chichewa, Damawa amongst others. We also offer translation services in over 14 European languages including Mongolian, French, Bosnian, amongst others. 

Does your business need support in expanding to international markets? Get in contact with us and you will be in great company with the many other multinational companies we have served within the past decade.