One person’s laughter can be another person’s pain. And so it goes with translation blunders, when communication and language go horribly wrong.
One prime example is KFC, who began to advertise their slogan “Finger-Lickin’ Good” in China. Unfortunately, it came out to something like “Eat Your Fingers Off.” I’m sure cannibalism was not what they were going for.
An older example, Pepsi, didn’t fare much better in the Chinese market. In the 1960s, “Come Alive with Pepsi” was translated to something like “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.” Confounding their customers with the promise of supernatural powers was probably not high on their wish list.
Both cases continue to make people laugh while I’m sure their PR people still cringe at the memory, but the Chinese market isn’t the only potential pitfall.
The truth is that all-important words, phrases and documents when translated wrong between any pair of languages can become jokes, or even worse, dangerous when we’re talking about medical records, industrial applications, international diplomacy or other important uses of language.
The facts are that translators are human and they do make mistakes sometimes, and that machine translation is still terrible. Adding sets of eyes, quality assurance, validation… These are the things that help guarantee a more accurate translation. (Perhaps I should mention that these are all things that 1-800-Translate does.) A bad translation shouldn’t fall through the cracks because no one bothered to check it! Santa checks his list twice; translations – and the important information they convey – don’t deserve any less.
If you’re going to go to the expense of having something translated, it pays to make sure it is being translated right. After all, translation blunders can be unprofessional, expensive, dangerous and yes, sometimes even funny for a long time to come.