We’ve all played with translation tools such as Google Translate and Bing Translator. They’re great for translating simple phrases, such as “how are you?”, that basically mean the same thing across most languages.
But when it comes to communicating important messages to a foreign-language audience, the overall meaning of similarly simple phrases can get lost when using the same technology.
Consider the common English phrase, “I’m going to catch a bus.” Most people in the English-speaking world who use public transit are familiar with what this means.
But you can’t always translate that literally. In French, for example, there are many verbs that might apply. Choose the wrong one, and your French readers might get confused. How can one actually “catch a bus”?
Translating the same phrase to Mandarin can cause the same issue. In Mandarin, the correct phrase translated to English reads, “I am going to follow the bus.”
This might sound strange to Western ears, but it’s completely understandable to those fluent in that language.
Have you ever used the Bing-powered translation tool on Facebook? I find myself still mystified as to the meaning of the foreign-language post after seeing the English “translation”.
Clearly, a lot of work went into these tools, but they can’t be relied upon for overall credible translation.
Using a freelancer might work, but if you’re not fluent in the language, how will you proof the work?
I heard a story where a marketing piece was translated from Japanese to Chinese, using traditional script. The piece almost went to press, but the client caught two lines of Japanese still in the copy just in time.
Can you imagine the fallout had the client not been familiar with the difference in script, and the piece had gone out as is?
Thousands of dollars wasted. Reputation? Gone.
So unless you want to take a Berlitz course to learn your target language, you should consider hiring a reputable translation company that offers at least three levels of translation and proofing.
It’s an expensive undertaking, but poor translation can result in long-term costs that no business wants.
If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you!