How translation errors can ruin content

Today, having a website with content available in multiple languages is a must. But, if the translation is not accurate, then it can actually damage your reputation and credibility. Just as spelling, grammatical or other errors in the original language will minimize your effectiveness to the audience.

Objective vs. Subjective Translation

The challenge with website translation is that, while some content has a single, direct translation (what we will call an “objective” translation), much content can have multiple possible translations (“subjective” translations). And it is up to the translator to choose the right words they believe most effectively conveys the intent and content of the original language. This is why translation agencies mainly use human translators and not machine translation. Only human translators can understand the subtleties of the original language and ensure that the translation is objectively correct and subjectively accurate.

Impact of Objective Translation Errors

The impact of objective translation errors is obvious. If a translation contains misspelled words, improper grammar, subject-verb mismatch, or similar mistakes, it reflects poorly on the business. To some users, it demonstrates a lack of attention to detail. To others, it suggests that the company doesn’t care enough about its international audience to engage with them well. To still others, it suggests sloppiness, incompetence, or worse. Regardless of the impact, a translation that is inaccurate in some way very quickly turns a potential client into a lost opportunity.

Impact of Subjective Translation Errors

The impact of subjective translation errors, on the other hand, is not so obvious. For example, if you are translating into English and want to talk about the four-wheeled, gas-propelled vehicle that people use to transport themselves and their belongings from one place to another, is “car” or “automobile” the correct word to use? This translation dilemma does not have a “correct” answer. In fact, many end-users may not actually care which word you decide to use.

To other readers, it matters significantly. Depending on your audience, the level of sophistication, the purpose of your writing, and various other factors, one or other may be a much better translation. If, for example, someone is trying to sell their vehicle, the better choice would be “car.” After all, people looking for used vehicles on the internet are almost certainly going to search for “used car,” NOT for “used automobile.” On the other hand, if someone has written a history of motorized vehicles during the 20th century, they will likely have a much greater reach writing about “the history of the automobile” than they will writing about “the history of the car.”

Is it wrong to try to sell your “used automobile”? Is it incorrect to write about “the history of the car”? Objectively, the answer to both of these questions is, “no.” But subjectively, you will most certainly have much better luck selling your “used car” or inviting academics to read about “the history of the automobile.”