Mistranslations Around the World


One of the fun things about working in the translation business is you get to know what other industries are up to (since you translate into Spanish their legal documents for instance), but you also get to see lots of funny mistranslations. If you travel a lot you have probably seen some yourself. There are plenty out there so I’m going to start to share a few on a regular basis, here are this week’s funnies:


On the main road to Mombasa, leaving Nairobi: TAKE NOTICE: WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE.


How to Avoid Communication Issues When Training Multilingual Employees

Training multilingual employees is a challenge that can be accomplished using quality translations, which can avoid confusion, embarrassment, and potential damages. Without a professional translation service a business is severely limited in making sure its messages are communicated effectively to its trainees, partners, or customers. Feedback is an important component to communication to make sure messages are not being misunderstood.

Training Quality

A good starting point for training multilingual employees is making sure all employee manuals or employee handbooks are already in the appropriate language for each individual. It’s helpful to give new trainees bilingual options. Visual aids are helpful tools to clarify the meanings of words and phrases. Offering demonstration videos can help clarify steps on how to do a job correctly. Managers should take an interest in learning more about the different languages spoken by their employees as well as learning how nonverbal communication, such as eye contact and voice volume, can affect perceptions. Training systems, such as eLearning platforms that offer bilingual communication help accelerate worker understanding and productivity. One way to improve training is to offer learning management systems (LMS), which are cloud-based tools that can provide communication in all languages. LMS can be used as a vehicle to grow a global business, which increasingly requires multilingual skills. Many corporations have developed successful strategies to expand their global business by hiring people trained to communicate with customers around the world.

Embracing Diversity

One of the things that helps any operation related to training multilingual employees is having an atmosphere that embraces cultural diversity. One of the benefits of projecting a multicultural image is that multilingual and bilingual people have different perspectives of the world than people who only speak one language, this difference creates an environment that is usually friendly to all people, which in turn helps the image of the company. Knowing how to overcome language barriers helps gain loyalty and trust. Building long term global business relationships relies on training a staff to understand how to separate language barriers from emotions. Cultural differences play a big part in language barriers as well. When training multilingual employees, it’s important to be as interactive with them as possible and not just assume they are absorbing the material.

Improving Language

Whether learning or teaching a new language, there are many online tools that help people accelerate their understanding of a language. These tools include free online translation sites and videos that help explain complexities of a language. The key is to not treat a language as a crash course, but to embrace it as a sophisticated system that helps simplify communication.

The importance of high quality translations in the corporate world

As businesses continue to become more global, it’s important for these businesses to be able to rely on competent translation services to send the right message to their customers. The problem with some translation services is that if they are not experienced or professional, they can mistranslate words or simply not employ skilled enough translators to communicate effectively in different languages and/or not use a second separate editor to edit the original translator’s work. Since the worldwide business community is getting more competitive, it’s best to hire a quality translation service with a proven track record, always ask for testimonials and check an agency’s current client base.

Language Experts

Working with experts who are very familiar with the languages you need is helpful because they understand the nuances that occur due to cultural differences in perceptions. The most valuable translators are well educated professionals who have studied communication and/or translation specifically and have expertise in semantics, grammar and localization. So in order to assure high level credibility, global businesses should work with not just people familiar with language translation, but professionals who are skilled in the art and science of communication in a broader sense.

Bad Translations

It’s very important for businesses to avoid bad translations, which can destroy relationships as well as opportunities. A novice translator might not know all the different nuances of a language and can send the wrong message due to his/her lack of knowledge. Understanding a language involves more than just translating words and constructing phrases a certain way. It also involves knowing the culture, its history and working consistently with the native language. A big difference between a high quality translation service and a startup with low paid employees is that the more experienced and professional service will likely have a stronger quality control process. The more credible translators have gone through rigorous training and have a more diverse education. Trying to cut corners on the quality of a translation to save money has proven to have unfavorable consequences. Businesses that rely on international trade cannot afford to gamble with inexperienced translators.

Language Complexities

The reason why it’s important to find translators who know both languages inside and out is that languages are constantly evolving. English is a complex language because it’s composed of about a million words but only 3,000 of those words are commonly used. It’s easy for people who don’t know English very well to confuse the meaning of niche words. Within every language are differences in word usage affected by region, social, and other factors. Even though English is known throughout the world, global business can improve the more communication improves for other widely spoken languages.

Translating is Art

Most translators would agree that translating something written from one language into another is a form of art. When I spend too much time managing the business I miss the hours I get to spend sometimes translating a document from English into Spanish for a client … it’s one of my only outlets to be truly creative (even if it’s in a more technical sense). What a translator does is “convert” a  picture in one language and “paint” it with words into another language. Since you and I mostly think in pictures… proof? What do you think of when I say “dog”? That’s literally what we are doing, painting a  picture in another language. This takes creativity and imagination, you  have to put yourself in the place of a person living in the target  country and ask yourself “how would someone in Chile say this?” The key is to make sure it sounds very natural and not literal. A literal translation is easy to spot and easier to do than a truly good translation which takes creativity.