Are Mistranslations Threats to Your Business?

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With the surging wave of globalization, your company will incur considerable costs for the internationalization of products and services, some of which will surely be used for translation.
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With the surging wave of globalization, your company will incur considerable costs for the internationalization of products and services, some of which will surely be used for translation. There is no questioning the usefulness of translation, which is key to delivering product functions and user experiences to the target market.

But it's important to realize that a poor translation can serve as a double-edged sword.

Are Mistranslations Just Language Issues?

Of course not. Mistranslations could mean a manual giving incorrect instructions to a user or an interface that makes the user perform the wrong actions. These mistakes can result in customer confusion, economic losses, or even danger to users. In turn, this could lead to:

  • Damage to your brand and compromised customer confidence.
  • Customer complaints result in penalties from market regulators, or even product recalls or demarketing.
  • Additional costs to remedy various problems caused by such mistranslations.

As we can see, mistranslations are never truly just on the linguistic level, but also result in a variety of visible and invisible losses to your business.

Since as early as 2009, the global slogan of HSBC's private banking business was “Assume Nothing”, which sought to convey a brand image that HSBC was a bank with unlimited possibilities and imagination. Though it was a bold and innovative brand strategy, during the global rollout, HSBC found that the slogan had resulted in negative feedback in certain regions. Surprisingly enough, the source of this problem turned out to be the translation. In the areas with negative feedback, the slogan has been translated to “Do Nothing”, completely distorting its original meaning. This unforced error forced HSBC to change and re-launch its slogan on a global scale, costing the company nearly USD 10 million in additional costs.

How Can We Avoid Mistranslations?

Mistranslations have always been the greatest frustration of localization. So how can businesses expanding to the global market avoid them? There are a variety of basic measures that can be implemented right away:

1. Maintain a high-quality termbase: Terminology is one of the most important and valuable assets for the translation process. The vast majority of mistranslations are terminology errors or inconsistencies. As such, a termbase that is dynamically managed and shared with providers is critical. Through effective terminology management, terms can be added, deleted, modified, and verified in a timely manner to ensure the quality of translations.

2. Give the provider reasonable and sufficient time to complete the project: While most providers have systematic and standardized project management and quality control systems (you can determine the basic management level of providers through professional certification systems such as ISO 9001 and ISO 17100), rushed delivery requirements will often result in a downturn in quality. Just as with any product, lowering the normal delivery time of service will result in a risk to quality, even if the provider implements safeguards. To avoid unnecessary problems resulting from urgent delivery requirements, keep abreast of your provider's delivery capabilities and reserve sufficient time for the translation process early on during the planning phase of your internationalization project.

3. Provide adequate reference material: You may often find that even when your provider does its best to ensure its translators have the proper knowledge and background, these translators do not seem to know your business and products, as well as you, would like. This is actually a very normal and common issue. No matter how familiar the translators may be with your industry, they are still working from outside your company. In fact, being familiar with an industry and being familiar with a specific company and its products in that industry are two completely different things. Therefore, ensuring that translators have access to sufficient reference materials before the launch of a translation project goes a long way to preventing mistranslations resulting from blind spots in their knowledge.

4. Continuously improve the quality of source text: If you spend a bit of time analyzing the cause of mistranslations, you’ll find that in addition to seemingly independent mistranslations, many are also problems inherited from the source text. Even when a termbase is available, translators are unlikely to notice if the same concept is expressed differently in the source text, resulting in unavoidable inconsistencies in the translation of the term. Keeping the source text consistent in terms, style, and semantics will result in far fewer errors being inherited by the translation.

5. Arrange for internal reviews in a timely manner: If you have resources in your company with different language competencies, arranging an internal review after each project delivery can help identify many mistranslations that you may not have been able to find on your own. In addition to helping you verify the quality of translation deliverables, this will also help your providers continuously refine their solutions based on the feedback, clarify translation preferences, improve translation memories, and further prevent the introduction of mistranslations.

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The Rest is up to the Provider

Translation has always been a collaborative effort between the buyer and the provider. While there are many other ways to prevent mistranslations, if you don't have a trusted language service provider, then no matter how hard you try, it’s likely that you’ll be making twice the effort for half the result.

An experienced, systematic, and efficient provider not only helps prevent losses due to mistranslations but can also develop a set of best practices that best suit your needs, thereby delivering more value through translation.


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