DYI short text translation does not always end well

The problems posed by short text translation

At one time or another we’ve all been exposed to a hapless example of short text translation. As you can see from the picture above, poor use of language and clumsy translation often stands in the way of the very best attentions to inform, intrigue, or merely keep us away from harm.

The problems posed by short text translation are well known by industry experts and all those of you have come across amusing translation mistakes of your own. The trouble is, with such short pieces of text, some businesses find it just too tempting to save a couple of quid by attempting some translations of their own, often with the help of Google translate. Our experience in the industry has taught us that, however easy a spot of short text translation might seem, it’s one area which is always best left to the professionals.

Common short text translation mistakes

The Rush Job

Many of the companies that turn to us for professional translation assistance are working to tight budgets and deadlines. That’s fine by us, because we can turn projects around nice and quickly to meet even the most demanding deadlines. But what happens when there’s a last minute change to a document we’ve already translated, or a few words are added to a brochure, document or website page? That’s when mistakes can occur.

Rather than sending the extra text back to the professionals, sometimes marketing managers and web developers opt to take a short cut. So, off they go to Google translate; and therein lies their mistake.

Google translate is an incredibly clever tool for producing very general translations, but when you need a piece of text to be precise, as all good short text communications should be, automated translation tools are of next to no use.

The Contextual Cock-Up

Context is essential in accurate language translation. With so many homonyms at play, creating an accurate translation is only possible when a word is considered in context. At the last count, there were an estimated 6,139 documented homonyms in the English language, so there’s plenty of room for error.

For example, the word ‘bear’ can mean:

• To hold up; support: To bear the weight of a roof
• To give birth to: To bear a child
• To produce by natural growth: A tree that bears fruit
• The big, cuddly (sometimes aggressive) animal you find in the woods

Put the word ‘bear’ into Google translate and you never know which meaning your translation will assume. Get it wrong, and you’ll be left with a short text translation that makes a laughing stock of your best laid plans.

So, the moral of this story is: Whether it’s a big chunk of text or just a handful of words, the only way to be assured of a word perfect translation is to work with mother tongue linguists who understand the nuances and context of their language.

Have you seen any short translation blunders you’d like to share? Please leave your examples in the comments section below.

Image credits: Chris Radley


Cross-cultural communication is not always easy!

The importance of effective cross-cultural communication

In today’s globalised business environment, effective cross-cultural communication and competence is more important than ever before. With the economic downturn and opportunities created by the web, many businesses that previously lacked the infrastructure to expand are now venturing into new markets overseas.

A business’ ability to communicate across cultural divides is key to the level of success it can expect to achieve in foreign markets. While expansion into Western Europe or North America may provide linguistic divides, the cultural diversity at play is relatively minimal. However, cast your eyes further afield, to Asia, Eastern Europe or South America, and there’s a cultural chasm that can lead to misunderstandings and damaging blunders that can cost you prospective customers and clients.

The barriers to cross-cultural communication

Cultural generalisations and stereotypes can present a huge challenge for businesses with international aspirations. A simple choice such as a translation service rather than a full transcreation of your website can alienate prospective customers and limit the success of your expansion overseas.

In many cases there are cross-cultural communication ‘rules’ a business will not know exist. Then there are the nuances of language that a simple translation will not account for. The recreation of your website by a mother-tongue linguist who lives in the target country will ensure your marketing communications take account of the relevant linguistic and cultural conventions.

The evolution of language

Companies that successfully make their mark on overseas markets pay attention to the trends and evolution present in language. The introduction of social media presents both a challenge and an opportunity for overseas companies. While this platform levels the playing field by allowing new entrants with minimal budgets to compete with established, domestic based businesses, the colloquial language on social media can make if difficult for non-domestic businesses to build a following.

Improving your cross-cultural communication skills

Your level of domestic communication and people skills count for nothing when you set foot in new markets. Of course, an organisation’s ability to communicate effectively overseas will improve with international experience and increased exposure to different cultures. However, if you want to hit the ground running, here are a few methods of improving your cross-cultural communication.

• A simple telephone interpretation service can help you communicate with foreign clients and customers from the off. Fast, effective communication allows you to bypass language barriers and cross cultural divides without having to invest heavily in a foreign language customer service team.

Foreign language copywriting allows you to market to overseas customers in an authentic and believable way. Creating native marketing materials can convince overseas customers they are dealing with a domestic supplier.

• Businesses based in the UK can pay a small fee for a native business address and phone number to win the trust of overseas customers. An overseas business address and phone number is a thinly veiled façade if your website is written in English, but if you’ve gone to the trouble of transcreating your website under a foreign URL, a native address and phone number are the perfect finishing touch.

Has your business borne the brunt of any cross-cultural communication blunders? Perhaps you’re currently expanding into new markets overseas? Either way, we’d love to hear from you, so please share your experiences in the comments section below.