There’s no such thing as free translations, because according to the latest media reports, some online translation tools are letting down organizations.
Well, we would say that, wouldn’t we? But free translations are a false economy.
You go online, put in the words you want to translate, and hey presto, there it is in another language. It should be wonderful.
Free translations can go very wrong
In October 2017 two hugely embarrassing and very negative mistakes occurred with free translation tools.
So what happens next is that you have to spend time, resources and money backtracking and apologizing, putting out media fires and investigating why your software got it so, so wrong.
We don’t Chat very well
WeChat, the Chinese messaging app, translated ‘hei laowai’ – a neutral phrase which literally means ‘black foreigner’ into an incredibly offensive term.
Days later, Facebook’s language software incorrectly translated ‘good morning’ as ‘attack them’ in Hebrew and ‘hurt them’ in English. It resulted in someone getting arrested.
Free translation tools turn translations into guesswork and while a wrong translation is scary enough, this sort of mistake could so easily have been averted.
Best practice in translations
The best agencies want to promote ‘best practice’ for their clients. That doesn’t mean chasing the big bucks. It means assessing what would work for your brand in the first instance.
The initial outlay on setting up your translations can be very small, but is really worth its weight in gold because you can test markets as you go, translate your most popular web pages before rolling out the entire site, or just focus one new international market at a time. Test, trial and tweak.
The hidden costs of sticky translations
Just as costly – how did these translation mistakes get out in the first place? For a small fee a translation company will offer services where another translator can check your translation for you. Or you can assign a trusted validator at your end to double check your work, and make suggestions for future translation work.
How to protect yourself from bad translations
You can send an agency a set of words and phrases that mustn’t be translated, or have to be translated a certain way. This helps with consistency and accuracy.
The very best language agencies are also transparent and will explain all these services before you take on your first project.
High-quality translations can be delivered at low costs. Free translations could be hugely costly, as the above examples testify.
By Ben Whittacker-Cook
Ben works in the Marketing Department at Straker Translations and still eats too much pizza.