If you were to ask the average person what it takes to become a translator, their first answer would most likely be “being able to speak two or more languages.”
If the only prerequisite for becoming a professional translator was knowing two or more languages, then you’d be forgiven for asking why we even need translators in the first place… After all, Google Translate alone is ‘fluent’ in over 103.
The truth is that translation is a wonderfully complex and creative process that often goes unrecognised.
Indeed, the first step towards working as a translator would be to have full proficiency in both the source and target languages – but being bilingual does not make a translator, as we’ve previously discussed.
Translators are not simply bridges between two languages but between two cultures. They are experts in understanding and interpreting the cultural nuances of both the source and target languages; they are computer whizzes, mastering multiple CAT tools and methods of research; and they are highly-knowledgeable specialists in their chosen area of translation, whether it be medical, legal or marketing, to name but a few.
A pretty painful faux pas
So what happens when people don’t properly consult professional translators for their language needs? As we found out from singer Ariana Grande last month, it can culminate in a pretty painful and very permanent mistake.
Grande recently revealed via Instagram a snap of a new Japanese hand tattoo dedicated to her latest song, ‘7 rings.’ However, her tattoo ‘七輪’ doesn’t translate as ‘7 rings’, as she had intended. In Japanese, the characters actually translate to ‘shichirin’, meaning a small barbecue grill... Not exactly what she had in mind, we imagine.
Apparently Ariana Grande’s new tattoo was meant to say ‘seven rings’ but actually translates as ‘barbecue grill’. Even celebrities aren’t safe from a tattoo mishap. DO YOUR RESEARCH, PEOPLE!Our latest episode about body modification is available now on all good podcast apps. — How Not To Be An Idiot (@noidiotspodcast) February 16, 2019
When Swedish vacuum manufacturer Electrolux launched their products in the U.S., they needed a catchy ad campaign to capture the imagination of the American consumer.
In their attempt to highlight that their vacuum cleaner was the best and most powerful on the market, they went with the slogan: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."
Of course, if read literally, it makes perfect sense. But little did the company know that in American slang, saying that something ‘sucks’ deems it the worst.
Had Electrolux consulted a US-based translator, they would have instantly spotted the mistake and would have come up with a clever and snappy slogan perfectly suited for the US market. Who knows, they might also have actually helped sell some vacuums.
Communication is key
One of the most valuable aspects of working with a good translation agency is the strong communication and customer care that they offer, without which things can go badly wrong.
Take Swansea Council, who once submitted a request for the following message to be translated into Welsh: "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only."
They received an instant out-of-office reply that they wrongly assumed to be the translation. Unfortunately it read, "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated." This was printed onto the actual sign which was erected beside a road, no doubt causing much confusion to passing Welsh speakers.
This misunderstanding might easily have been avoided had a translation agency liaised effectively between the client and absent translator – and would have saved a big chunk of cash, too.
The naked truth
Braniff International Airways, an airline which operated from the 1920s until the 1980s, wanted to create a Spanish-language marketing campaign to highlight to the Hispanic market the luxury of flying with their leather-clad seating.
They came up with the tagline, ‘Vuela en Cuero’, meaning ‘Fly in Leather.’
However, a very similar expression in Spanish, “en cueros,” means “to be naked”, and it is all too easy to mishear the tagline if it is uttered fast enough.
Braniff learned their lesson the hard way – marketing translation requires specialist translators who are not only native speakers of the target language (in this case, Spanish), but are also experts in creating marketing and advertising content for the target market specifically.
Two heads are better than one
Reviewers are crucial to translation projects, and work closely with translators to ensure that the end result is error-free and fit-for-purpose. After all, proofreaders know that the smallest mistake – such as omitting a preposition – can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence and turn your project into a viral laughing stock.
This is exactly what happened with this airport sign, which was spotted in India in 2015. By simply forgetting to add the preposition ‘on’, this translation surely has won one of the top spots in the Translation Fails Hall of Fame.
This poorly-translated "Eating Carpet" sign was spotted in India in 2015.— Waffles At Noon (@wafflesatnoon) June 12, 2016
Why invest in professional language services?
Becoming a professional translator takes years of hard work – of studying, obtaining qualifications and gaining experience. Like any other accomplished professional, a translator is devoted to their craft and is constantly looking to hone their skills.
Wolfestone has a strict and rigorous selection process which allows only the best to pass through and become Wolfestone linguists. As a multi-award winning service, you can rest assured that high-quality translation is a given.
Our ethos is to deliver exactly what is right for you, your project, your goals and your needs. We take the time to listen to you, understand your requirements and devise tailored solutions for your business. This collaborative approach helps you to achieve precisely what you want, builds excellent partnerships and ultimately delivers the success you deserve.