This post isn’t meant to deter you from using such technology, but rather warn you to tread lightly and explain some basic complexities of language. Language is a tricky thing. Some things to consider when recognizing the differences in language and working with a translation tool are:
- Varying alphabets/symbols
- Differences in sentence structure
- Idioms and expressions
- Grammar usage, or lack thereof
- Non-verbal communicators
These bullet points show that there’s a lot going into an accurate translation, and explain why companies are still perfecting the technology. There’s a lot to consider, and technology alone might struggle to convey things like tone and body language. These can completely change what’s being said, especially with languages like Thai that are completely tonal. Thai is broken into five different tones, and depending on the tone in each syllable of a word you could be saying a completely different sentence then what you meant. Essentially, tone doesn’t always indicate sarcasm, approval or disapproval like English and many other languages, but rather what the literal translation is.
One example of translation gone wrong is in 2009 when HSBC bank launched a $10 million rebranding campaign to fix damage done from its tagline “Assume Nothing.” The tagline was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in some countries, which doesn’t bode well for getting consumers to act on using your services.
It’s important for any global brand, whether it be one of the largest banking institutions in the world or a single REALTOR®, to pay attention to detail when it comes to what is being said to foreign clients. Using tech to translate units of measurement or currencies is okay, but leave the conversations to those who are fluent. Hire a translator or bring someone on your team who is bilingual. Or try learning a new language for yourself. Even if you aren’t fluent, knowing a couple basic phrases in your client’s native language could go a long way. Stick with simple phrases like “hello” and “thank you.” Though translation tech has a long way to go, we can all still help improve language barriers with a little extra effort.
Have an interesting or funny story about a miscommunication while translating during a deal? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.