Friday, July 15, 2016

Why Bad Translation Is Bad for Business

I was reading an article on the BBC today about how Iranian state media isn't happy about some English-language clothing and claims it to be offensive. If you're interested in the story, you can find the article here. This got me thinking about some of the awful English I've seen on clothes around the world.

Whenever I find myself outside of the UK or English-speaking countries, I can't help but giggle to myself when I see someone wearing clothing with terrible or poorly translated English on it. If you'd like to amuse yourself with nonsense English, a quick internet search will reveal plenty of brilliant nonsense that people unknowingly sport on their t-shirts as they leave the house. One of my personal favourites is "The pig is full of many many cats", whatever that's supposed to mean.

This phenomenon extends far beyond clothing, though. There are also examples of bad English tattoos, which are far more unfortunate than a dodgy translation on a t-shirt (and a lot more painful to get rid of). The internet is a also great resource for finding them, including (but not limited to): "I'm awsome", "beliefe in dreams", and "What didn't killed me, made me stronger".

These examples are unfortunate for some, but not really a problem. However, bad translation has become a problem in South Korea, where the government has had to set up a task force dealing with horrendous menu translations. Food experts and language experts are helping create better restaurant translations in English, Chinese, and Japanese. There's another good article from the BBC about it here.

If you're buying or making a cheap t-shirt, you probably don't care about hiring a professional to translate or proofread it before it goes into production. If you're getting a tattoo on a drunken night out, you're probably beyond the point of thinking twice about the spelling, grammar, and punctuation that's going to be put permanently on your body.

Good translations can sell good products.
What really gets me, when it comes to restaurants, hotels, and plenty of other businesses, is how little some seem to care about their translations. I've seen so many horrendous restaurant menus (in some very good restaurants, too) that could have been translated perfectly, but weren't.

Maybe it's to save some money. Maybe there's someone at your restaurant who's pretty good at a foreign language, so why don't you get them to translate your menu? That's a huge mistake! Restaurant menus, in terms of words, are generally quite short and simple for a professional translator.

These kinds of documents are a piece of cake for a qualified professional native translator, especially one who lives or has lived in your country, is familiar with the cuisine, and will create a better and tastier-sounding menu than Google Translate or a staff member who's okay when it comes to chatting to foreign customers.

The same goes for all documentation across all businesses. When someone visits your business, whether in person or online, you don't want a poor translation representing you. In a busy market, customers will stop at places where they know what they're getting, not places where they're confused as to what's on offer. Is it really worth running that risk with nonsensical translations?

I certainly don't think so, and I'm fairly certain our fellow language lovers will agree with me. To deliver a proper message in a foreign language, you need a real translator!

What are some of the worst translations you've ever seen? Did it put you off doing business with them? Tell us about your terrible or hilarious experiences in the comments below!