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Translation errors and their consequences for international businesses

Who hasn't fallen into this trap at some point? It isn't uncommon for us to come across translated texts with grammatical errors and poorly written sentences that don’t make any sense.

It may seem like a simple task, but an incorrect translation can be disastrous and can cost a company millions, as well as potentially undermining and harming new business deals – not to mention the jokes and negative image a poor translation can cause.

Companies that care about their reputation and understand the importance and care required to guarantee smooth communication hire specialist services to translate their business documents and advertising material, as well as to interpret presentations and meetings.

A useful tip when hiring a translator is to always bear in mind that translation and interpreting involve more than merely translating words – they require a deep understanding of the local culture. The meanings of certain words can vary in different regions, and if used incorrectly, can lead to problematic misinterpretations.

REAL CASES

Many international companies, some of which are very well known, have been through this uncomfortable situation. Dubious interpretations of simple words have come close to ruining major deals in some cases. As well as the embarrassment and damage to their reputations, these companies lost millions of dollars due to bad translations and interpretations during communication processes.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola once faced a situation that we believe was its biggest marketing challenge. When launching in China, the company had to adapt each of the four syllables that make up the name Coca-Cola to local phonetics. Despite the first suggestion (“Ke-Kou-Ke-La”), sounding good, it turned out to have a very different meaning to what the brand intended – it actually meant something like “bite the wax tadpole” or “a female horse stuffed with wax.” At the time, even though the suggestion had already been made public, the marketing team kept searching for a new translation that would work in the region. They finally settled with “Ke-Kou-Ke-Le” which, in Mandarin, means “to allow the mouth to be happy.” Luckily for the company, everything worked out in the end!

KFC

This is another example of the trickiness of adapting to the Chinese market. This time, the challenge was KFC's slogan. The famous “Finger lickin’ good” ended up being translated literally into Mandarin, resulting in “Eat your fingers.” But KFC acted quickly to correct the error before it had been publicized. Imagine what could have happened if that slogan had been launched? We’d rather not even go there.

Schweppes

Do you like drinking tonic water or toilet water? Is that a strange question? That was the translation error that cost a number of Schweppes employees their jobs.

Electrolux

This is a very interesting case, because it involves two English speaking countries. The slogan used by Swedish company Electrolux and translated by a British marketing agency to advertise the brand in England, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux,” carried no negative connotation for the English, but it ended up becoming a joke in the US, despite the Electrolux vacuum cleaner never being sold there. While the word "suck" means "to extract" for the British, it has a negative connotation for the Americans, meaning something unpleasant or very bad.

Sometimes we are caught by surprise during our business processes, but we need to circumvent these situations in order to achieve our goals, to fulfill what we set out to do and expand our business.

Internationalization is increasingly common and beneficial to business operations, but the more exposed a company is to the cultures of other countries and regions, the more seriously it should consider the need for specialist translation and interpretation services.

At Pazetti Language Consulting, we offer translation and interpretation services aimed at your target audiences and performed by professionals who specialize in your business area and are native speakers of English, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Find out more about how we work by clicking here and requesting a quote.