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5 examples of terrible content translation

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5 examples of terrible content translation

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The essence of writing content is to convey information to target readers in a concise, clear way. When your target audience is multilingual then you need to manage your content translation from the original language it was developed in to various customized languages to suit your diverse target user base. This must be done in careful ways to avoid miscommunication, which would otherwise jeopardize the entire purpose of your good content.

It is incredibly easy to lose relevant details and make mistakes when translating from one language to another. You could make use of professional services such as The International Language Company who will handle the process for you, otherwise, here are a few common issues to watch out for:

1. Literal Translation Errors
Word by word automated translation is the number one cause of terrible content translation. The translator may correctly translate each word, but in a different language, those words, when appearing in the same sequence, may convey a different message altogether. For example, here is an introductory paragraph of an article on affiliate marketing companies:
“For first-class and far-reaching customer acquisition, many firms are increasingly seeking out partnerships with affiliate marketing companies. The merchant who seeks the marketing partner pays out a given commission to have their merchandise (goods or services) promoted or sold. With the swelling numbers of the marketing partners, you need to find the very best and here’s how”
Here is what it says after a literal, word-for-word translation to Swahili:
“Kwa mara ya kwanza darasa na mbali kufikia upatikanaji mteja, makampuni mengi zinazidi kutafuta ushirikiano na makampuni ya affiliate masoko. Mfanyabiashara ambaye anataka mpenzi masoko inalipa nje imepewa na bidhaa zao (bidhaa au huduma) kukuzwa au kuuzwa. Pamoja na idadi uvimbe wa washirika masoko, unahitaji kupata bora sana na hapa ni jinsi gani”
This is the new message conveyed after translation:
“For the first time, a first and far class reaching finding customer, many companies are seeking to cooperate with companies of affiliate markets. The businessman who wants a lover market pays outside and is given their goods (goods or services) to be grown or sold. Together with the quantity swelling of market affiliates, you need to find the very best and here is how”
As you can see, the literal translation is completely unfit for use, and is quite incomprehensible. A business that sends that out would likely be quite embarrassed once they realized its error.
These literal terrible content translations can also be frequently found in more commonly used languages, such as in English – German translations. For example, ‘kindergarten’ is a German word that when literally translated to English means ‘children garden.’ When literally translated the content meaning is lost, and a sentence using a word-for-word translation is likely to mean something rather different from what was originally intended.


2. Homonym Translation Errors
Homonyms are words with more than one meaning; these, when translated without taking into account the context, can alter your content terribly. An excerpt from an affiliate marketing company’s English article reads: “The merchant who seeks the marketing partner pays out a given commission to have their merchandise (goods or services) promoted or sold.” A homonym error resulted in this terrible content translation in Swahili, which reads: “Mfanyabiashara ambaye anataka mpenzi masoko inalipa nje imepewa na bidhaa zao (bidhaa au huduma) kukuzwa au kuuzwa. In English this says, “The businessman who wants a lover market pays outside and is given their goods (goods or services) to be grown or sold.”
This homonym error is also exemplified in a customer advisory seen in a restaurant in Nairobi. It read “CUSTOMERS WHO FIND OUR WAITRESSES RUDE OUGHT TO SEE THE MANAGER.” The word “ought” changes the content totally, thereby making it derogatory.


3. Phonetic and Dialect Translation Errors
Differences in various languages’ speech and sounds can also often result in terrible content translation, as exemplified in the soft-drink’s “Coca-Cola” debut in China. As is the norm, you will rarely get applauded for getting a different language right but lots of fun will be poked at your content should the translation be terrible, like it was in this case. The phonetics brought on a new meaning altogether i.e. “Filly stuffed with wax” and in some dialects the sounds meant “eat the waxy frog”. It took public disgrace before the multinational brand found appropriate Chinese phonetics for their world class brand. This would likely have been gotten right the first time had a Chinese native been engaged to come up with the content translation in the first place. It is never a good idea to blindly translate product and company names without appropriate consultation.
Another Chinese phonetics translation blunder occurred in the translation of the slogan for KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken); ‘Finger-lickin’ good’ became, after being translated into Chinese, “Bite off your fingers.”


4. Idiom Translation Errors
Language details, grammar precision and correctness, puns and all subtleties in content with idioms get lost in translation. A good example is the well-known English idiom that talks of the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak. This, when translated literally into the Russian and then back into English, conveys the message that the alcoholic spirit (Vodka) is good while the meat stays rotten.

5. Slang/Jargon Translation Errors.
Terrible content translations also stem from translating slang words or colloquialisms which are better left in English. A good example would be “File”, an English word commonly used by native English speakers online in reference to digital documents. In translations, the meaning may be lost if the word is translated to the Italian “Fascicolo”, which has different connotations in Italian and alters the context to make it rather unprofessional to any native Italians reading your content.
It is clear that one word, when wrongly translated, can completely change or ruin your content, hence it is critical to be careful about how your content is translated. While getting a native speaker of your desired language(s) is a step in the right direction, it is not enough. It is important to use modules created by natives who understand the language intimately to avoid loss of vital details. It is also important that the translation module is well researched, with good exposure to other languages as this could save your content from being misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Gary Feelan is a freelance writer who has been contributing to the itlangco team for a number of years. His wealth of experience within the language translation sector allows him to give an excellent insight into 5 examples of terrible content translation.

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