When Translation Matters and When It Doesn’t

When Translation Matters and When It Doesn’t

by Translation Guy on October 28, 2014
0 comments

Let’s say you finally got to go on that dream vacation. Woo hoo! Maybe you were on a tropical beach for a month soaking up the sun and drinking coconuts. Then one day you were doing some snorkeling to enjoy the warm turquoise water and the sight of the colorful fish, but bad luck intervened and you got run over by a boat. What were the chances? You were injured badly, but luckily, you were found by locals and rushed to the island’s hospital where you were treated. Now you’re back in your home city with a handful of documents and test results written in a foreign language. You know you need more treatment for your injuries but your doctor says you have to get those documents and test results translated first.

Do you…?

A. Run that stuff through Google Translate. (Hey, it’s free, after all.)
B. Hire the cheapest translator you can find – a newly graduated art history major looking to make a buck.
C. Hire an experienced medical translator or an agency specialized in medical translation.

Which option did you choose, and why?

The question is: When does translation matter and when does it not? Luckily, I have a test for this: How much would your life suck if the translation were wrong?

If you are sure no one is ever going to read or use a translated document, then errors are probably not going to hurt anybody. Go ahead and go for the terrible translation, but really, why translate at all in this case?

On the other hand, if someone is going to read it or use it, especially in high stakes situations, that translation better be perfect!

Consider the case of products for public consumption: You don’t want your product to be the laughingstock of the business world or the internet world because your packaging got translated wrong. Also, medical translation: If a doctor is going to make a diagnosis based on a translation, then your health may literally depend on the quality of a translation.

What do you think? When does translation matter and when does it not?

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