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Don’t Let Your Message Get Lost in Translation

The effects of a bad translation

We all know the expression ‘lost in translation’, but it means significantly more than the Spanish or French translator simply using the wrong word. A ‘good’ translation conveys a whole idea or meaning, not just some words on a page. Words come together to create a certain tone, style, and register, all of which need to be translated across. Idioms, expressions, jokes, and metaphors all need to be translated in such a way for a native speaker to have an experience as close to the original audience as possible. A good translation requires a lot of work and this is why you should always choose a professional translation over a machine translation or instead of using someone who ‘speaks another language’ and works for your company – being multilingual does not a translator make.

Choosing a Translation Company

Knowing which translation company to choose can be difficult, but you should always base your decision on what is right for your needs. In many circumstances, an online machine translation is perfectly suitable – if you’re just trying to get the gist of an idea, for example, rather than requiring a professional translation suitable for publication. However, if you’re sending a direct message to your customers, then you need a reliable and accurate service that will provide you with a high-quality result. Check out the company’s track record, feedback, and reputation. Here at Wolfestone, we have won or been a finalist in over 20 business awards in the last three years alone, and we are also members of the ATC (Association of Translation Companies) , EUATC (European Union Associations of Translation Companies), and ATA (American Translators Association).

An important consideration when choosing any translator is that they know your business sector and the local dialect and terminology of the country they are writing for. A French translator in France, for example, will use different terms to those for French-speaking Canada or African countries. Being able to provide a technical translation where necessary is also important, and relevant to your business sector. Here at Wolfestone Group, we use a network of over 6,000 carefully selected translators, many of whom are specialized in technical translation in different industries.

Marketing Mistakes

Many huge global companies have fallen foul to the lost in translation curse, often with quite humorous results. Coca-Cola’s Japanese version of their slogan “Coke adds life” was translated as the equivalent of “Coke brings your ancestors back from the dead” – not just funny but against the Trade Descriptions Act we’re sure! Mistranslation can even occur between countries that speak the same language but use different expressions. Electrolux’s slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” was used widely in the UK without issue, but had to be changed for the US market.

Operating in global markets isn’t just about words either. When Pepsi changed the color of its vending machines from dark to light blue it noticed a drop in business in Southeast Asia. Why? Because light blue is a symbol of death and mourning in that part of the world, customers immediately made that association when they went to buy their cola drink.


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