Why cheap translation is a big mistake

If you look around the web at the marketing materials that some Italian tourism businesses use, you can find a sea of bad translations.

Presumably, none of those companies intended to use a poor translation, but that’s what they ended up with. Perhaps the texts were put together by the cheapest translator they could find, or a friend or relative who knew some English. Or even Google Translate.

What is the problem with that?

Several things:

  • Translators are not all the same – they specialise in different fields; they have different levels of experience; some are more qualified than others. And some are just better. You wouldn’t choose the cheapest web designer on the market, or the cheapest lawyer, or the cheapest bottle of wine in the supermarket. Because you know that the quality would be inadequate.
  • Having some knowledge of a foreign language does not make you a good writer in that language. You can look up words in the dictionary, but they may not sound natural when you string them together. You cannot necessarily tell what sounds persuasive, or which expressions have unwanted double entendres. That’s why I, even after years of advanced study and professional practice, never translate into Italian.
  • And free translation tools may be OK if all you need is a rough understanding of a trattoria menu or directions to the railway station, but they are no way to translate important marketing or commercial material.

What can go wrong?

Imagine an evocative description of a beautiful Italian travel destination, containing the line “Senti il richiamo della natura”. A non-native translator’s literal attempt might be “Feel the call of nature”. Fine, except that “the call of nature” in English means wanting to go to the toilet – so, rather than conjure up the delightful image of your destination, you have just invited potential visitors to urinate. They will not be impressed; on the contrary, they will probably be laughing at you.

Again, rendering “prospettive suggestive da ogni finestra” as “suggestive views from every window” will also have the holidaymakers all a-snigger. Because “suggestive” in English is a false friend – it actually means lewd, sexually provocative; so, unless the hotel looks directly onto a nudist beach, that would be an embarrassingly bad translation. Your target customers will have just crossed you off their list.

Bad translations, bad impression

Even if the errors in your English copy are fairly minor, they still project a bad impression. As a travel business, you are trying to create a warm welcome for foreign visitors. But if your messages to them are littered with errors and infelicities, they will think that you are careless, that you lack attention to detail, and that you do not really care how you come across.

And that’s just disrespectful.

And even if your English texts contain no actual language mistakes, they may well lack that professional touch. Perhaps they are a little dull or colourless; maybe the readers have to struggle to get what you mean. Now, even though your target clients are not laughing or fuming at you, they are not inspired or engaged, either. Your copy has left them cold. So here, too, it has failed.

The solution – specialist professional translation

The answer, of course, is to think of translation as an investment that will reap you rewards and, accordingly, to find the best native-speaking specialist professional translator available. Their skilfully crafted, incisive copy will help your business grow.