As technology brings the world closer and the internet allows businesses to expand their reach to international markets, many brands are moving towards bilingual or multilingual websites. And switching content from one language to another in the age of online translation services like Google Translate is easy, right? Wrong. While Google Translate and other automated translation tools can be helpful in “getting the gist” of text, they stumble over idioms, pronouns, phrasal verbs and other quirks of language and grammar, often creating a confused piece of content that certainly won’t represent your products or your brand. How bad can it be? Type “Google Translate fails” into your search engine and see the millions of cringe-worthy results for yourself.
The next option is to find a bilingual person to translate. Problem solved? Not really. Ask anyone who speaks two or more languages and they will tell you that translations are a challenge that, when done well, can be elevated to an art. But not every native English speaker can write the next “Great American Novel”, not everyone that speaks two languages is gifted as a translator.
Many translators get bogged down by literal translations, trying to exactly capture what is expressed in the original content. However, this generally leads to content which lacks in the cadence and natural flow of the language to which it has been adapted or has idiosyncratic word choices which give away that the content is not in its original form. And of course, there are things that are difficult to translate well, or even to translate at all, like jokes, expressions or slang.
A strong translator needs to have a handle on regionally specific use of language. For example, the differences between American and British English can get confusing quickly. A bonnet is the hood of a car for a Brit and a hat for an American, a boot is footwear for an American and the trunk for a Brit…are we getting dressed or going for a drive in the countryside? Depends on who is translating. Furthermore, a good translator needs to have a cultural understanding of the target market for which the content is intended. For example, a French Canadian and an Algerian likely have little in common beyond the fact that they fact that they both speak French, probably with vastly different patois, at that.
So how does a brand ensure that they are translating their brand identity and products in a way that resonates in whatever language they are communicating? At Mijo! Brands, we have found that the secret to great translations begins with two things:
- A bilingual and international team –a culturally and linguistically diverse team allows for group thought regarding the subtleties of word choice and cultural relevance, helping ideas and concepts to be communicated seamlessly between languages.
- Translators that have a deep understanding of a brand and its products – for a translator to capture and communicate your brand personality in another language, they need to understand who your company is, your goals as you move into foreign markets and the products and the services that you offer.
As entertaining as those Google Translation fails are when they happen to somebody else, there is nothing funny about a bad translation if it negatively affects your company image or product. The investment ensuring that your brand message is being appropriately communicated, no matter what the language, is never wasted.
Sylvia McNamee Blanco is a Senior Copywriter with Mijo! Brands of Mexico, a leading digital strategy and marketing agency with offices in Puerto Vallarta and CDMX.