The importance of a good translation

When I started weLanguages (eLanguages) in Kansas City in 2000, I immediately joined the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and got very involved. I learned years before, how important it was to join a local chamber AND volunteer if you wanted your business to grow. The Hispanic Chamber worked a lot with other KC chambers, and one year one of them decided to reach out to Hispanic owned business from the Hispanic Chamber by organizing a half day event. The chamber President sent out printed personal invitations in Spanish to all of us. When I opened my invitation and read it my first thought was “Oh no, she used Google Translate to translate it into Spanish!”

Sure enough, when several of us called this chamber to let them know about the terribly written invitations, the President found out that her assistant, who had said he spoke Spanish when he was hired, did not actually speak Spanish very well, and thought he was very smart by using Google Translate to translate the invitation. Well, it back fired on him, and it really embarrassed the President of the chamber. I have a feeling there are many people out there with similar stories. When I advise businesses regarding translations, I always say “For your own good, don’t rely on your ‘bilingual’ staff to translate your documents!” Being bilingual does not make you a translator, just like knowing how to write doesn’t make you a writer.

Stay tuned for more funny (or interesting) mistranslation stories in my next blogs. And if you can’t get enough, sign up for our monthly newsletter to see what Charlie Croc (our company Ambassador) has in store in each issue:

Fake Sign Interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s Funeral

Do you remember in 2014 when they televised Mandela’s funeral worldwide? They showed Obama speaking with a sign interpreter standing right next to him “interpreting” what he was saying at the same time. His name was Thamsanqa Jantjie, and he grabbed the headlines and caused an uproar after standing for hours next to Obama and other global leaders making “childish hand gestures” in a bizarre attempt to sign their tributes to Mandela. It was so very funny because he looked so serious and professional, like he really knew what he was doing. Apparently, deaf groups responded immediately saying he made no sense in ANY language. If you want to see the video, click this link:


Stay tuned for more funny mistranslation stories in my next blogs. And if you can’t get enough, sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter to see what Charlie Croc (our company Ambassador) has in store in each issue:



Did you throw all your resolutions out the door already? Are you frustrated because by February you broke most of them? I can guarantee you are not alone… in fact, it’s already been 7 weeks since the year started, and I suspect you may not even care anymore, and who has the time or energy to still care? But don’t lose hope, I’ve learned the hard way through the years, how to do one or two things that help me get better each year without expecting that I will change EVERYTHING that needs to be fixed in one year. 

My only secret is that instead of starting the year all gun-ho and rearing to go, ready to face the new year full of enthusiasm and energy to lose those 10 pounds, not have that second glass of wine, or buy that awesome Michael Kors purse in Steinmart (but it’s 40% off here!) that I don’t need, I start slowly… I start cutting back gently, giving myself time to get used to a little less of what I really want, two weeks at a time… less cookies, less wine, less hot crunchy buttered French bread … then next thing you know, bang… I’ve lost 1-2 pounds (wow!), I’ve gone to the gym one more time per week than I normally do (for a grand total of once a week), and … no, wait… we have that 3 day cruise… the food, so much of it.. the drinks… always available… ☹ is it 2020 yet?

Should You Ask Your Spouse To Translate Your Legal Documents at Work?

imagen translate.JPG

After 25 years in the translation business my biggest challenge has been to educate clients about why they should hire a professional translator (preferably an agency), instead of taking the easy, but eventually costly and embarrassing, way out and using Google Translate, or asking their spouse or relative to translate for them.

So what are your options?

1.       Do Nothing: In today’s global business environment, this is just not an option anymore. At best you will definitely miss out on business opportunities, and at worst, you can be held legally or criminally liable. Example: if you own a factory, and one of your employees loses an arm because he did not know how to properly shut off a dangerous machine when it malfunctioned, and the only instructional manual was not in his native language, you will be liable.

 2.       Google Translate: I know, such a tempting an easy option, and I agree, many times that’s all you need to communicate with a buddy in Germany, or to try to figure out what a word means. Even though “machine translation” has come a long way, and one day it will probably replace human translators, we are not there yet. Example: Google Translate doesn’t know if you are referring to a “bank” where you put your money, or a park “bench” when you type the word “banco” in Spanish to translate it into English. If you are lucky, it will know based on the context of the whole paragraph, but it doesn’t always get it right.

 3.       Bilingual Staff or Relative: Like with any industry, those who are in it tend to be those who understand the importance of expertise better than anyone. Would you ask a person from Russia to teach a course in Russian history at the university just because he is Russian and has lived there all his life? Probably not. The same applies to your translations. Just because someone is bilingual doesn’t mean they know how to translate a written document properly. Sure, you can ask your relatives to interpret (verbally) what someone is saying in a casual conversation, but that is far different from actually transferring a written document from one language into another correctly. Case in point: when I worked at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Translation/Interpretation Unit in the 90’s, most of our interpreters (verbal) who took the test to be translators (written) failed. They were great at interpreting verbally, but could not get the context right when translating, and/or their grammatical skills were never up to par.

 4.       Freelance Translator: This is a translator that works independently, on his own, not through an agency. Some are excellent, in fact, many actually work for an agency too, but the problem you will run into is the fact that they mostly work alone. They don’t have a strict quality control process that consists of 3 different professionals touching your important documents: translator, editor, and final proofreader. A good agency does, and no matter how good a translator is, he or she can and will make mistakes, mistakes that can only be caught if you have a separate editor review their work.

I always say that I don’t envy an HR manager that has to find a good translation partner to translate his or her employee handbook into Spanish for instance. If he is not bilingual, how will he ever really know if the quality is excellent? He won’t, and he will just pray that he picked the right partner, and that no one will come back to him months, or years later, to complain about a poor translation.

We would love it if you chose us as your translation partner, but whether it’s us or someone else, we encourage you to work with a professional agency when you need anything that is business related translated into another language. You can check their website for testimonials or reviews from happy clients, and even ask them for a reference. A good partner will have one AND share it with you.

Pamela Godoy Fiume

We’re here to help!