This week, I thought I'd share some of the consequences of bad translation. Sometimes, even large, wildly successful companies underestimate the value of transferring their message to a foreign market. This can cause a number of problems, from the target audience simply not understanding the intended message, to it being seen as unappealing or even offensive.
Have you ever put something into Google Translate or an equivalent tool, and then translated it back into English. Does it sound right? You either got lucky (machine translation is slowly getting better), or you'll see what I mean.
The consequences of not using a professional translator were obviously not clear to Parker, the pen manufacturer, when they wanted to market their products in Latin America. Their message in English read: "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you", but the company clearly didn't consult their Spanish dictionaries. The word embarazar was used to mean 'embarrass' ... The right word would have been avergonzar but, unfortunately for Parker, they chose a 'false friend', which actually means 'to impregnate'. The company's message was therefore translated as "it won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant" - not exactly an advantage over competitors' products!
I find it difficult to feel sorry for Parker, or other companies who make these mistakes. There are very few organisations without the money, time and resources to make sure that slogans and marketing messages are properly tailored to the target audience. Anything short of that devalues translation as a skill, the importance of the target culture and the target audience themselves. Would you buy a product whose message does not appear to address you? I, for one, want to feel valued as a consumer, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.