A Real Life Simulation – How Wrong Translation of Documents Can Ruin Your Business

Any business operating within the global market, encounters its fair share of challenges. But one which can be easily side-stepped is the problem of miscommunication due to poor translation. When translating documents, marketing materials or any information from one language to another, it is vital that companies consider how the end product will reflect on them professionally. A high quality, professionally delivered translation will convey a polished approach and can make locals in the target country more likely to listen to what your company has to say, as well as consider what it has to offer.

document translation


The quality of translation can make the difference in a marketing campaign as well as in the public’s perception of a product. For example, in 2004 the company “Waterpik”, famous in America for dental instruments, met with trouble when promoting their product to customers in Denmark. When the company tried to translate its name, ‘Water’ was translated to the Danish ‘vand’, and the company added their trademark ‘Pik’ to then end, resulting in ‘VandPik’ which is a Danish euphemism for an early morning erection. Needless to say, sales were impacted and WaterPik had to revise their marketing and branding policies for the Danes.

Even the business titan Coke ran into trouble with slipshod translation. When they introduced their drink in China, it was originally translated as “Ke-ke-ken-la”, and production began immediately on emblazoning the name in the Chinese alphabet on promotional material. It wasn’t until much of their promotional material had already been printed that someone realized the characters used in the printed translation meant “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”. Coke had to withdraw all of those materials, have the name reworked and begin from scratch which cost a considerable amount of money, not to mention time and resources.

Although problems in translation may seem funny in the hindsight, the cost of fixing them certainly isn’t funny to the company. As demonstrated in the Coke example, translating phonetically to a written language can offer a unique challenge. This does not only hold true for translations into Chinese, a company which needs to translate English to Russian could easily run into the same problem. Apart from the cost, a poor translation can also be dangerous.

For example, a company which might not pour its resources into a quality translation on directions for electronic goods could find the poor translation results in customer injury when used abroad. This can be damaging not only for the company’s reputation, but would also leave them open to lawsuits.

Substandard translations can also have a negative impact on business growth by complicating deals and hindering international relationships. Business departments and representatives should be able to read and clearly understand all internal communication and corporate related information. Ensuring that all internal and external communications are translated properly, not only gives the impression of a truly professional organization, it also shows a commitment to customer service, employee inclusion and a desire to open lines of clear communications with anyone who deals with the company.

When a company makes the decision to expand its reach and develop a line of communication with an international audience, how they communicate is vitally important. This goes for their chosen avenues of marketing and communication, as well as how much time and effort they put into crafting their message. Special challenges can be found when dealing with phonetic versus written translations such as the problems that can occur when needing to translate English to Russian or Chinese. The best way to meet these challenges and exceed expectations is to retain the services of a truly professional translation team. This will ensure a company’s message is clear, concise and delivered appropriately to their target audience.

Tina is a freelance writer and enjoys writing on a wide range of topics. She has researched and written several articles on business communications with special attention on specific challenges, such as the need to Translate English to Russian and other niche issues.

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