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Interesting blog articles and stories about translation, aimed at businesses and a general audience

How translation errors may ruin your reputation

We've all seen our share of funny translation mistakes, either on social media or live on vacation. We've chuckled or laughed - and let's admit it: in the process we lost respect for the shop or restaurant that was responsible for them,  no matter how good the quality of their offering.

Like the Bucharest hotel that put up the notice “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During this time you will be unbearable” or the Norwegian lounge that pointed out that “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.” And what about this attempt to use an English expression, found on a Swiss menu? “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.” They make the management seem very silly.

And we are not necessarily talking about real errors. Funny messages may be the result of a cultural difference the author is not aware of. The polite tone of the Japanese, always trying not to offend anyone, will sound funny in translation because it has not been localized - not adapted to the audience, that is. Like the following message in a Tokyo hotel: “It is forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such a thing is please not read this notice.”

Hilarious - or are they?

We've all had a good laugh at these funny translation or localization mistakes - but if you consider the damage caused by translation errors, you might stop laughing. Because translation fails can be very costly.

Just image what happens when you make huge investments in your international campaign, only to find out the translation of your slogan makes you look bad. It happens to the best! KFC's tagline "Finger-lickin' good" became "We'll eat your fingers off" in China. The Swedish home appliance manufacturer took its vacuum cleaner to the American market with the tagline "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux." Pepsi's slogan "Pepsi Brings you Back to Life" was translated as "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave" in  Chinese.  Coors' slogan "Turn it loose" became "Suffer from diarrhoea" in Spanish. And what about Chicken company Frank Perdue's slogan "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken"? The Spanish version turned out as "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate." Oops.  That's not what we meant. ..

The cost of a funny translation

It cost the companies in question millions of dollars to fix these mistakes in all their marketing materials. But worst of all, no matter how much money they spent trying to correct these translation fails, the damage to their reputation had been done.  Of course large corporations like KFC and Pepsi have the budget and the resources to make up for their mistakes. But what about your company? Would it even survive mistakes like these?

So if you ever break into a new market, make sure you take the translation step seriously, before your delightful new drink is marketed as "The jew's ear juice" or "pee cola".