The Biggest Translation Mistakes with Real Consequences

Expanding your business globally can be an exciting step for any marketer, but marketing your product or solution abroad requires much research and preparation. In order to succeed overseas, marketing messages must appeal to the target audience. You can prepare several marketing messages for your target customers but all they will remember is the one mistake you make. This is because poor translation is most obvious when something goes wrong. Sending a badly crafted message with translation mistakes can not only turn people away, it can also lead to health, political and financial consequences.

Translation mistakes lead to health consequences

When an 18-year-old baseball player Willie Ramirez was taken to a South Florida hospital in a comatose state, his friends and family tried to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors. However, the family and friends only spoke Spanish and the translation that was provided by a member of the staff was incorrect, mistranslating “intoxicado” as “intoxicated.”

A professional medical translator would have known that the family and friends meant to say “intoxicado” as in “poisoned”, rather than “intoxicated”. This mistranslation led the staff to believe that Ramirez was suffering from food poisoning. Unfortunately, the doctors treated Ramirez as if he had a drug overdose. Due to the treatment error, Ramirez had to bear with the health consequences and was left quadriplegic.

Translation mistakes lead to health consequences

Political consequences

When President Carter visited Poland in 1977, he said in his speech that he wanted to learn about the Polish people’s “desires for the future”. Unfortunately, the Russian interpreter who was hired for the tour was not used to interpret professionally in Polish. President Carter’s statement was thus wrongly translated to “lusts for the future”.

Instead of translating “I left the United States this morning” correctly, the interpreter also mistranslated it to “I left the United States, never to return”. When the President said he was happy to be in Poland, the sentence was also wrongly translated to “he was happy to grasp at Poland’s private parts”. These translation mistakes created much political embarrassment for the President both in Poland and internationally.

Translation mistakes lead to political consequences

Financial consequences

HSBC Bank, a renowned global entity, was forced to launch a multi-million dollar rebranding exercise after a failed international marketing campaign. In 2009, the bank spent millions of dollars developing its “Assume Nothing” marketing campaign. Unfortunately, the tagline was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in several countries – a call to action that only resulted in mockery and did nothing to lift the brand.

The original campaign was immediately scrapped and the bank had to spend $10 million in rectifying the mistake. HSBC was eventually rebranded to “The world’s private bank”, a tagline that we continue to be familiar with till today.

Translation mistakes lead to financial consequences

Avoid Costly Translation Mistakes

If you are taking your brand global, there are a few precautions you can take to avoid embarrassment or financial consequences like those described above. Customisation is key. Be clear about the audience you are targeting and learn as much as you can about them in order to modify your marketing strategy accordingly.

Another simple yet crucial marketing tactic is to localise your content instead of merely translating it. This is because there may be cultural gaps between countries. Localisation communicates language nuances, which is the hallmark of effective, quality translation. By studying the culture and the way people communicate on a day-to-day basis, you can ensure that your message will be translated in a way that will resonate with the audience, rather than upset them.

To go about global marketing the right way, hire a reliable language services provider with subject matter experts who understand linguistic nuances and  can handle your translation needs perfectly for you.

elionetwork is a one-stop translation and language services provider headquartered in Singapore. Our network of expert linguists, in 5 continents around the world, will help you not only translate but localise your marketing materials to gain traction and customer trust. To reach new markets successfully, contact us as early as possible so that we can build you a custom workflow for your marketing needs.