Real Life Disasters that Could Have Been Avoided with a Professional Translator



In an increasingly global world, language can be a barrier in business and entertainment. With an estimated 7,000 languages spoken around the world and 150-200 of them spoken by more than one million people, communication mishaps interrupt life all the time. The inability to communicate effectively is a challenge for governments, businesses, and individuals around the world. By doing your research and hiring a professional translator, disasters and mishaps like the ones here can be avoided more effectively, saving people from embarrassment and even saving lives.

1. Medical malpractice

In 1980, an unconscious young man was brought to an emergency room in Florida. His friends, who only spoke Spanish, attempted to explain to the doctors what was wrong. They were pretty sure he was poisoned, or was suffering from food poisoning. However, the doctors interpreted the word for poison “intoxicado” as “intoxicated”. They made the inaccurate assumption that the young man had overdosed on drugs and began to treat him accordingly. However, the miscommunication and misdiagnosis resulted in the young man becoming paralyzed.

2. Language barriers among leaders

Some miscommunications are less physically damaging but can have an impact on international relations. When President Jimmy Carter traveled to Poland in 1977, his translator screwed up a few key lines. When President Carter intended to say the phrase “when I left the United States…” it was translated to, “when I abandoned the United States…”. Similarly, when he asked Polish leaders about their “desires for the future”, he instead asked about their “lusts for the future.” Neither of these phrases resulted in a disaster, but it is important for leadership to appear credible and articulate when communicating in foreign countries.

3. The high cost of miscommunication

A recent study found that in Switzerland, language barriers are leading to higher healthcare costs. The inability of health care workers to communicate accurately with asylum seekers in that country causes the burden to fall on those paying for healthcare. Due to the lack of translators and multilingual healthcare professionals, refugees and immigrants are paying far too much for healthcare around the country. Hiring professional translators and offering language classes that focus on health care terminology would greatly reduce the costs for policyholders and the stress for healthcare providers.

4. Marketing mishaps

Some mistranslations can be humorous, but embarrassing for advertisers and their clients. For example, Pepsi’s slogan “Come Alive” was translated into Spanish inaccurately. The result suggested that Pepsi could bring deceased relatives back from the dead.

Speaking of embarrassing, Parker Pens told consumers their pens, “won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” The Spanish word “embarazar” deceptively looks like “embarrass” but instead it means “to impregnate.” While not their intention, it’s probably still helpful to know that Parker Pens won’t impregnate you.

“In order to save costs on translation, often times businesses decide not to use professional translation agencies, and either use machine translations such as Google Translate or their bilingual employees,” said Marina Ivanova, Founder of MI Translations. “However many times going this route doesn’t only end up costing these companies more money in order to correct the mistakes, but also may cause a blow to their reputation.”

Kraft Foods, Inc. could have benefited from a professional translator in addition to focus groups for their new global snack brand – Mondelez. After announcing the name, Kraft learned that it has a vulgar meaning in Russian slang that no one mentioned during the focus groups.

5. Business blunders

The difference between traditional and simplified Chinese cost one business $10,000. The client had attempted to manage the project themselves, not realizing that Mandarin and Cantonese are spoken dialects that don’t necessarily correspond to Simplified and Traditional Chinese writing. It is certainly something a professional agency would have been taken into consideration and addressed, according to Multilingual Connections.



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