My niece had a bicycle made by a respected foreign manufacturer. It was a very nice, well made bike. One evening I was helping her take the bike apart to replace some worn out parts and opened up the “Assembly and Maintenance Manual” for some help. The instructions read:
- 1. Move out the old wheel.
- 2. Put bearing and spacer each one into the new wheel.
- 3. Put other bearing and tightly screw up.
- 4. Put back in the rear rack.
- 5. Screw up in a bolt.
The rest of the instructions were equally incomprehensible. Written in a language superficially resembling technical English, the manual was a major puzzle that I didn’t manage to solve. I threw the bike away. After all, my niece’s safety was at stake.
It was only a bicycle, but I couldn’t help thinking about the brand name foreign company that marketed the bike. That company not only produces consumer goods, they sell multi-million dollar industrial machinery, medical instruments and precision tools used in manufacturing high-tech weapons and nuclear reactors. What would the consequences be of mistranslating operating and maintenance manuals for those products?
It may be easy to laugh at incompetently handled English translations of foreign documents, but many American companies take even less care translating their own documentation into Chinese or Spanish or Arabic than foreign manufacturers do translating into English.
Liability for Industrial Accidents:
If an overseas mechanic servicing or calibrating American-made machines relies on incorrectly translated documentation and makes a serious error resulting in an industrial accident, the US manufacturer might be held responsible. The harm to the company resulting from lawsuits, damage to the brand and loss of good will in the country where the incident occurred may be substantial. Worse, the company may not even know of the problem and the liability until it’s too late.
Time to-market Delays:
Incorrect translation does not need to result in an accident that is damaging to your company. If even just a few patient records from a new drug trial in Europe are misinterpreted by the US pharmaceutical company because of translation errors, the outcomes data might be skewed just enough to make the difference between getting an “Approved” vs. “Non-Approved” letter from the FDA. Incorrect translations may also result in increased scrutiny by the FDA that is much larger in scope.
Even if translation errors are caught by the company, finding and correcting them may cause delays in the completion of a clinical trial or a new product launch. It has been calculated that delays in getting a new drug to market can cost up to a million dollars per day.
Often, damage to the company or the government is hard to precisely calculate. This is especially true for translation of marketing collateral and websites. When the customer reads a poorly crafted translation containing errors, imprecise or awkward phrasing, she does not think, “This is just a bad translation.” Instead, she may subconsciously view the company as unreliable, incompetent or amateurish.
When working with professional translation companies you can be sure that your translations are vetted from top to bottom. Quality control is inherent in the process. There are many levels and people on your team that work to make sure that your final product is the optimal translation for your needs. There is an entire team giving input to your project that ensures mistakes are sure to be caught.
It is very easy to take quality in translation for granted. Few realize how a seemingly simple translation goes through multiple steps and multiple experts to ensure than any errors are caught, re-examined, eliminated and how much your final translation has been vetted.
What errors have you found and eliminated during translation? How did you catch these mistakes? Please share your experience with us in the comments section below.