Pay now or pay later. In the world of translation, this saying certainly rings true. Some translation buyers—more concerned with the bottom line than with quality—look for the cheapest translation possible without considering the potential fallout from a translation done for a rock-bottom price. A poorly translated text could tarnish a company’s hard-won corporate image or negatively affect sales, but, in the worst-case scenario, a bad translation could lead to injury or even death.
Translation buyers wooed by low-budget translations don’t always realize that they’re likely sacrificing quality for price. Cheap translations are often performed by inexperienced or unqualified translators or those who hope to garner more clients by translating into languages other than their mother tongue. Some translation buyers bypass human translators altogether, opting to plug their text directly into online machine translation tools such as Google Translate. The results of translations by rookie translators, non-native translators and machine translation tools can be disastrous in certain situations.
The following types of translations require the utmost care and should never be left in the hands of a second-rate translator or a machine translation tool, as doing so could invite catastrophe:
- Sales and marketing texts requiring both linguistic and cultural understanding
- Patent translations or other technical literature where accuracy carries great importance
- Medical and pharmaceutical texts, particularly when such information may mean a matter of life or death
- Legal texts such as contracts, court orders, and wills, where any error in the text may have profound legal implications
- Any text that represents the public face of your business or organization, including websites, brochures, manuals, etc.
Companies work tirelessly to cultivate a particular image, but the results of that hard work can evaporate quickly with just one major gaffe. Websites marketing products and services can’t afford to take a lax approach to linguistic blunders. According to an article published by BBC News, UK-based online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe found that “an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.” It makes one stop to think about the potential impact of error-free yet awkwardly-expressed language, or text that flows and works well in one country and culture, such as Spain but not in others, such as Mexico or Argentina.
Inexperienced translators and machine translation tools also lack the ability to fine tune the text based on cultural nuances. The success or failure of a print ad or online marketing campaign rides on the text’s ability to connect with the target audience, and culturally inappropriate aspects of a translation will stick out like a sore thumb to native speakers. Regardless of the technological advances made, machine translation will never learn to pick up on the cultural undertones and subtleties at play in language. Jokes, idioms and wordplay are largely lost on tools such as Google Translate, which fail to capture the “flavor” of the text.
It’s worth mentioning that bad translations can have an impact on more than just the company’s bottom line. Inaccurately translated testimony in a court case could lead to an undeserved conviction; a translation error on a prescription drug label could have life-threatening consequences for a patient; and badly translated instructions in a machine manual could spell injury or death for a factory worker.
Businesses and organizations that prioritize their investment in a high quality translation of their documents, website, etc. project an image of professionalism and integrity, and they ensure the health and safety of those who rely on the company’s products or services.