Vintage blue alarm clock and its mirror image

The High Price of Bad Translation

It can be fun to laugh at examples of bad translations on the Internet. A poorly translated menu in China. A nonsensical sign in Russia. Indeed, if you have ever traveled abroad, you yourself may have encountered some poorly translated texts in brochures, menus, or other texts.

Harmless, right? Not always….

In 2009, HSBC Bank spent a hefty $10 million to correct a mistranslation of its “Assume Nothing” tagline, which had been wrongly translated into other languages as “Do Nothing”.  The company opted to change its tagline to the more translation-friendly “The world’s private bank”.

The Swedish company Electrolux famously blundered when introducing its “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” marketing campaign in the United States, where “sucks” is slang for “bad” or “unreliable”.

In 1980, an 18-year-old man was admitted to a Florida hospital in a coma. His family and friends, who could only speak Spanish, described him as being “intoxicado”. A bilingual hospital staff member understood this as meaning that the man was intoxicated, and doctors then proceeded to treat him as if he had a drug overdose. However, he was actually experiencing food poisoning (another meaning of “intoxicado”). The misdiagnosis and improper treatment left him quadriplegic and landed the hospital with a $71 million malpractice settlement.

Of course, these three situations could have been avoided with the help of a professional translator or interpreter. Paying a professional upfront saves big money in the long term.

Translation mistakes in advertising are highly visible. But what about mistakes in crucial financial reporting by international banks or in the drug development process by pharmaceutical companies? The wrong terminology can add up to huge losses for the company.

Doing translation right the first time can also protect a company against damage to its brand reputation. Potential customers may be turned away from a poorly translated brochure or website and choose instead to spend their money with companies whose brands appear more professional.

How do you put a price on that?

It’s understandable to want to keep costs low in your business, especially if you’re a startup operating with limited funds. But when you’re doing business internationally, there are simply no good shortcuts for professional translation services. A good-quality translation can have a ripple effect on your international growth, leading to a stronger brand reputation in your foreign markets and higher profits for your company.

Wait! Before you go….

Can you spot the mistake in the image above?? Let me know in the comments below!