The Perils of Poor Translation

The Perils of Poor Translation

If your organisation is creating communications intended for a global audience, you need a professional translator. A product’s superiority is in itself no longer sufficient to guarantee its success. Brand awareness, identity and orientation have become increasingly important in maintaining competitive advantage in the face of globalisation.

Poor translation of corporate websites, brochures, marketing and advertising campaigns or technical documentation can not only lead to embarrassment but can result in a negative impression of a brand and ultimately the loss of reputation and sales.

Many organisations have struggled with poor translations in the past, and large multi-national companies are not immune to these types of blunders.

The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as “Kekoukela”, meaning “Bite the Wax Tadpole” or “Female Horse Stuffed with Wax”, depending on the dialect.

In Italy, a promotional campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water failed when the product name was translated as ‘Schweppes Toilet Water’.

When the Coors slogan, “Turn It Loose”, was translated into Spanish, the attraction of the beer was somewhat tainted with the promise “Get Diarrhoea.”

While poorly translated brand names and slogans may simply result in a poor impression of a brand in the mind of the consumer, some communications if badly translated could have grave consequences.

Recently CNN reported that North Korea’s threatening rhetoric had reached fever pitch – claiming that North Korea has entered a “state of war” with neighbouring South Korea and had also produced a direct threat to “dissolve” the U.S. Mainland.

KCNA report stated that Pyongyang would “first target and dissolve mainland United States, Hawaii and Guam, and United States military based in South Korea. And the (South Korean presidential office) will be burned to the ground”. The Huffington Post, Fox News and NBC News followed with similar statements, reporting this crucial development as fact.

Conversely, the Centre for Research on Globalization stated that the much touted “state of war” declaration was not a declaration of war from Kim Jung-un but rather a statement of support for whatever decision he has to make from the “the government, political parties and organisations of the DPRK.”

They went on to state that the party claims only that they will declare themselves in a state of war when their leader makes that decision showing they are completely behind him. It is a statement of support from the people and perhaps a warning to the South that the North will not fold under their attack – but not a declaration of war from Kim Jung-un.

What was interesting was how a translation error allowed this threat to manifest and spread across the global media.

The error allegedly relates to specific text – where “from that time” became “from this time on” or “from this moment“ – a small change which resulted in a big difference in how the message was conveyed and understood by readers.

Some examples of the statements published by media outlets are reproduced below.

“From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly,” Ria Novosti

“Now that the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK have entered into an actual military action, the inter-Korean relations have naturally entered the state of war,” Huffington Post

“From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly,” Reuters via Prison Planet

The Centre for Research on Globalization concluded that the much touted “state of war” declaration being presented to the American people is in fact a “faulty translation”.

TranslateMedia provide professional translation services using native, professionally qualified translators and an extensive proof-reading and editing process, allowing these types of translation errors to be minimised and translations to remain accurate in purpose and context.

Written by Yusuf Bhana
Yusuf Bhana
Yusuf is Head of Digital at TranslateMedia. He has an interest in how technology can help businesses achieve their marketing objectives. He's been working in digital marketing and web development since 2001 across a wide range of industries and clients.

Related posts

Subscribe to our newsletter