Don’t Get Lost In Translation - June 3, 2016

We've all seen them: eyebrow-raising "translations" that leave you either shaking your head or slapping your knee. Just ask Google and you'll find countless examples such as a no-smoking sign in Israel that says "violators will be peralized" (yes, it's even misspelled).

While blunders like these make for great laughs, errors in translations can have far more serious consequences in business. For salespeople, they can lead to misunderstandings between you and your global clients. One wrong word can change the meaning of your statement, insult your client or lose a good customer.

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we'll share four of the most common misconceptions when it comes to translating content in the workplace.

1. Everybody speaks English now. Why do I need an interpreter or translator? In fact, only 17 percent of the world's population speaks English natively. Non-native speakers can easily misunderstand, misconstrue or completely miss the fine points of your message. Wit and persuasion can fall flat. Research shows that when people spend their own money, they want to use their own language. That's why so many commercial websites around the world are professionally translated and updated in multiple languages. Just look at Coca-Cola, for example. It's just good business sense.

2. My coworker knows Spanish. Why not just have her do the translation? Knowing two languages doesn't make you a translator or interpreter, just like knowing how to sing doesn't make you an opera star. Here's the problem: many bilingual people overestimate their skills. Often, relying on an amateur is a waste of human and financial resources. Instead, professional translators and interpreters can transfer complex ideas—technical, legal, financial and more—accurately between languages and cultures. Professionals also have specialized terminology and subject-area knowledge, and they know how to choose the most appropriate solution when a word has many possible translations.

3. Can't I just use a free online translation tool? The short answer is no. A computer simply cannot comprehend all the nuances of language. It cannot interpret the meaning of a text. It can only read the words and translate them based on dictionaries, databases or other algorithms. You cannot ask clarifying questions of these tools or explain the context of your document to them. And there may be confidentiality issues at stake when you upload your text to a free site.

Services like Google Translation might help when you need to get the gist of a document quickly and when accuracy isn't important. But if you use them to translate something into a language you don't speak, you'll have no idea what the outcome is and where the errors are.

4. Aren't computers replacing human translators? Interestingly enough, since free online translation services have been around, the market for professional translation and interpreting has actually increased. This isn't surprising; as Google and Bing open the door to global markets, users often discover just how important translation is-and realize that they have sophisticated language needs that only human professionals can meet. Machine translation is a growing industry, but the output needs to be edited by (human) professionals to eliminate errors.

Getting a translation wrong can hurt your bottom line, ruin your image and lose sales. Getting it right can be as simple as understanding the need for professional translation and interpreting—the roadmap that keeps you from getting lost—and knowing how to screen out the misleading signs along the way.

Source: Matt Baird is a professional German-to-English translator with more than 15 years of experience. He also serves as a speaker for the American Translators Association, which represents more than 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike.

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