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The Six Deadly Sins of Translation

It is a misconception to think that translation plays just a supporting role in promoting your company, brand name or products. One can imagine how things can go horribly wrong when a brand name or product description or function is translated badly or introduced to a new market with little or no research beforehand. Sadly, some translation issues can be the death of your product, service, reputation, and in more extreme cases, your customers.

Recently I have come across several examples of poor translation ranging from inaccurate and unappetizing menu descriptions to more critical and potentially dangerous mistranslated medical terms. Inaccuracy in a medical or even a heavy machinery manual can result in not only serious problems for your customers, but also for you from a financial and liability standpoint. In this article, I will present six “sins” in translation and what you need to know in order to avoid major financial and possibly human loss.

1) Translating out of context/mistranslation

A translator should never make assumptions. Ideally, translators should be aware of the context and have an overview of the content they are going to translate. It is not only crucial to clarify the meaning of technical or complex terms, but it is also important to understand simple words. To illustrate, when you translate a single term like “Home”, you would need to decide whether this is a “Home page” of a website or the “Homeland” in someone’s biography, or just “Home”, the place where you live. This is where you, the client, play a critical role. It is important to provide the translators with supporting/reference materials so they can better understand the content in context.

2) Using machine translation output without editing

Machine translation (MT) is still very controversial. Although MT has dramatically improved in the last decade and has great advocates, it is not yet suitable for some languages, material and subject areas, especially marketing and medical content. I am sure you have come across one of these bizarre translations and thought “This could not have been done by a human!” If you decide that MT is the best option for your project, do consider adding a human edit to the process to ensure accuracy in the translation. You want the richness and the nuances of the language to be reflected in the translation.

3) Lack of resources and search capabilities

To meet your specific requirements and quality standards, it is advisable to provide all the related resources such as glossaries, style guides and references. Translators also should have the capability to search and use search tools to find the right information about the product or service.

4) Corrupted text in the layout

Have you ever seen a brochure that is totally unreadable because the text appears corrupted? Well, I have! In such cases, it does not matter how good the translation is if no one is able to understand it. To avoid layout mishaps like mirrored characters, flipped text and misaligned paragraphs, you want to ensure that you are using the correct, compatible fonts, DTP tools and software. Most importantly, you should have the content checked for accuracy by a native speaker after it is typeset. GPI refers to this as the post-DTP QA.

5) Missing deadlines

Deadlines are crucial. Your translation team should be made aware of any critical milestones or deadlines in the project at kick off. If the team experiences a major road block or challenge that will impact the schedule or project outcome, they should inform you immediately so you can come to a mutually acceptable solution. A translation delivered after the product launch is no better than no translation at all.

6) Lack of quality and qualified translators

Translation is not just about word for word, it’s the translation of style, cultural insights, adapting texts for certain users, technically-specific terminology, etc. Some aspects you need to consider are locale differences, text directional requirements, images, links, just to name a few. By selecting a professional language service provider like GPI, you can ensure that your message will be translated effectively and have the desired impact on customers in their native languages.


The above are just few examples of translation issues that can harm your products and result in losing your customers. When you think of localizing your products, it is very important to partner with the right experienced translation service agency for the sake of your product success.