The Cost of Translation


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One of the big challenges any company or organization faces when working with people from diverse backgrounds is translation. Yes, it adds cost and time to a project, but when done poorly, it can also have a serious, negative impact on your message.  Recently, I was listening to a couple of news stories that brought this issue to light. These stories focused more on socio-political ramifications, but the issue permeates across all lines.

First, there was a piece on elections. In parts of California, where there are so many residents who do not read English, election ballots must be translated. Apparently, the politicians are the ones to do the translations of their own names. One candidate translated his name into the Chinese characters meaning “correct and fair”.  Perfect for a judge. Another candidate translated his name literally, which ended up meaning “Australia horse.” Honest, but not quite the same image as his opponent.

Minutes later came a second piece on former Chinese President, Jiang Zemin. The Chinese government wanted to control any breaking news regarding him, so in China they blocked internet searches for “Jiang.” However, “Jiang” also means “river.” So, if you were looking up information on rivers in China, you were out of luck.

What on earth does this have to do with your phone system? Everything. Chinese language is deep and fascinating. Each character is steeped in meaning, and influenced by the characters around it. When companies turn to inexpensive, automated means of generating non-English text, particularly in the Asian languages, they run the risk of not only misleading callers, but even of making no sense at all. And, unfortunately, at times scripts are so poor that they can’t be recorded without first being reviewed and corrected by a human professional, adding unexpected, unbudgeted  expense.

It’s vital that you have a professional translator who understands what idea you’re trying to convey in your source language, in order to ensure that it’s properly translated into your target language. You need the human analysis of characters, groupings of characters, and colloquial meaning that software is simply not capable of matching. No one would want to tell their customer that they forgive all late payments when really there’s a grace period. And you certainly wouldn’t want to tell your insured that their negative biopsy results were “decisive acorn.”

Let Walsh Media Shape the Way the World Hears You, and make sure your real message is heard. If you’d like to learn more, please give us a call at 1-800-454-6453 or visit

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