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Bad Translations– Bad for Business

December 16, 2008 5 Comments »

The objective of any company making a product or providing a service is of course selling that product or service. To do so, companies hire creative marketing specialists, sociologists and publicists; they perform tests, studies, statistical analyses, advertising campaigns and so on.

An astronomical sum of money invested in all of this…  but why don’t they spend a few bucks on making sure that they are getting a when they are planning to sell abroad?  Although it may seem like a small detail, why not consult an expert when planning to advertise your product in different languages?

In a similar vein, what about the government officials who decide on the designs for bilingual signs for tourists? Why don’t they consult a translator? It is a small investment that can pay off huge dividends in the long term. Lucky for us, “smart” companies get it.

There are a number of web sites that have compiled some funny examples of these .  But surely some of these , while still funny, are counter productive for the companies (hotels, restaurants or countries), as they negatively affect their image, thereby leading to fewer sales. Here are just a few examples.
How many instruction manuals have we seen that are translation nightmares? This bubble blowing pistol had a note, translated from Japanese to English, that said, “WHILE SOLUTION IS NOT TOXIC IT WILL NOT MAKE CHILD EDIBLE.”
It seems to me that couples visiting Tokyo will pick other hotels over this one, whose rules state: “GUESTS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO SMOKE OR DO OTHER DISGUSTING BEHAVIORS IN BED.”
A doctor in Rome must have noticed his dwindling number of female clients after hanging this sign: “SPECIALIST IN WOMEN AND OTHER DISEASES”
When General Motors introduced its Chevy Nova into South American markets, they didn’t realize what “no va”meant (doesn’t go). When they finally realized why they weren’t selling any Novas, they renamed it the Caribe for the Hispanic market.
When advertising a new ball point pen in Mexico, Parker’s ads should have said, “No goteará en su bolsillo y no lo avergonzará” (Won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you). But as the company thought that the Spanish word for embarrass was “embarazar,” they said, “No goteará en su bolsillo y no lo embarazará” (Won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you).
This last example was seen by a colleague, in the city of Buenos Aires. A large wine dealer on an important corner in town had a sign in Spanish on one of the streets and one in English on the other. In Spanish it read, “VINOS AÑEJOS – VINOS NUEVOS” and in English: “OLD WINES – ACTUAL WINES” They probably didn’t understand why customers were suspicious of their “vinos añejos”…


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