Using a Translation Agency or Service

September 1st, 2009
In an industry full of freelance translation services, professional translation agencies, machine and human translation options, and translation directories listing all of these components in one place, a corporation can be forgiven for feeling nonplussed and bewildered as to who to hire and where to go. Finding an efficient and value-addled translation company is always easier said than done, but it still needs to be done anyway because it remains a key business decision in our interconnected world at present. The need for trustworthy individual translation services or reputable professional translation firms to dole out professional indemnity insurance on themselves (especially those who have to translate legal documents for a living) is a clear sign that heavy financial consequences can happen whenever a translation slipup or blunder occurs. It is part of the risk of being a translation agency, so in order to mitigate that risk, companies must wisely choose the human translation company they want to hire. Making Better Translation Choices A poor translation service or translator can cause a company immense financial losses and public relation catastrophes in an unlimited number of ways. For example, an incompetently translated document—such as a business proposal or contract—can cause irrevocable consequences and damages to all the involved parties, especially if any misguided business decisions are made based on the compromised information. Moreover, a laughably translated advertising campaign or brochure can lead you to flush millions of dollars worth of your promotional budget down the toilet simply because your marketing staff and translation agency hadn't made the effort to do the research on the cultural norms and socio-political climate of your target audience. Signs of a Good or Bad Translation Service "Linguistic Screening" or "Cultural Applicability" is a localization process wherein your translation service works hand-in-hand with you to carefully examine your promotional content or legal files and guarantee that none of the brand names, images, photos, words, or the like will translate badly to the people whom the translation is catered to. On that note, the signs of a competent translator or translation service are as follows: A competent agency has an understanding of the cultural, moral, and political impact of translation and linguistics; features a good network of translators that offers proofreading on top of straightforward translation services; and provides references and qualifications in translation work experience. At any rate, instead of telling you the signs of a bad translation company, we'll just show you what happens when a not-so-knowledgeable translation agency is used:
  • Coors' motto of "Turn it loose" was once translated into "Loosen your bowels" or something to that effect in Spanish.
  • Through a comedy of errors, the Italian translation for "Schweppes Tonic Water" became "Schweppes Toilet Water".
  • Clairol's negligence in doing the research for its "Mist-Stick" product (a mist-producing curling iron) in Germany produced predictable results—in German, "mist" translates to "manure", and you can just imagine how well a "manure-stick" will sell.
  • Colgate's "Cue" brand toothpaste in France was coincidentally named after a notorious local porno magazine. It'd probably be as interesting as having a "Playboy"-brand handheld game console for kids in the United States (fortunately, that didn't actually happen... yet).
  • On the flipside of things, the Scandinavian Electrolux brand once produced an infamous marketing campaign that alleges, "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux." Actually, it's marketed mainly for the UK, where "sucks" had a more positive connotation, but you can only imagine the hilarity that arose once the ad made its rounds in the Internet.

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