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Professional Translations

December 23, 2009

The translation of consumer products labeling and instructions is no simple task. For pharmaceuticals and other medical translations, an incorrect or unclear translation can have serious repercussions. Cultural sensitivity is also paramount: words and phrases that are catchy in English can fall flat or even offend your target audience.

One thing you should certainly not do is use machine or Internet translations. These translations are not nearly accurate enough. For example, the washing instructions on a child’s sweater in Germany were translated as “washing from the left side,” which obviously makes no sense. What the label was trying to say is “wash inside out.” This error was due to a literal translation of the German instructions, and a literal translation is rarely an accurate one.

Here is another example of a faulty translation, though this one was apparently the result of human error. You would probably think twice about purchasing the Tehao Rechargeable Shaver (made in China) that included these instructions in English: “Smuggle the razor blade (reference value around 400 g) on your muscle vertically, then drag your skin and shave back slowly. Too much strength on muscle may cause quick wear and tear, poor shaving feeling and outer razor blade’s tear.” This is probably not the work of a professional translator.

One way to avoid obvious translation errors that are laughable as well as those that can offend is to use a translation company that relies on translators in the target country, or who are at the very least native speakers of the target language and familiar with cultural sensitivities and proper idiom. Trying to save money by relying on machine translations or a translation service that offers rock-bottom prices (and inevitably quality as well) could end up making your product the butt of jokes.