Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

America is Dead!

Posted by Tina | 08.10.13

How is it possible that the positive descriptive Chinese words “extremely beautiful” be translated into the negative and hurtful “America is dead” in English?

There are many translation tools and services available: some are free, some are very costly. Free ones may give you very wrong results, so based on the purpose, careful consideration is required when choosing a translation tool and service.  We’ve reviewed three options below.

Free Online translators

Automated online translators, such as Google Translate and BabelFish, are free of charge, but they only translate words individually instead of looking at the whole sentence structure. We have seen the algorithms for online translators improve over the last year or so. Google Translate has been incorporating more and more grammar principles and sometimes even user input, and being able to place the translated words in the right order, sometimes.

Translation from these online translators can also be ridiculously wrong. For example, in Chinese, we often use the word “death” to describe a high degree of “extreme”, therefore, “extremely beautiful” in Chinese would be “beautiful (to) death”. Google Translation provided the English translation as “America is dead”How did that happen??? It’s because in Chinese language, the United States is considered a “beautiful country”.

America is dead

Screen capture of the Chinese words “extremely beautiful” into English as “America is dead” on Google Translation.

 There’s also an interesting translation website in the developmental stage called Match Translator Portal. The concept is that a member can post a translation job, identify the budget range and other requirements such as whether the translator needs to be certified or not. Registered translators then bid on the translation job. While most professional translators charge high rates and require a long wait time, this website attempts to overcome those barriers. To execute this business idea properly, the website would need to find a way to ensure that these translators have proper credentials. In addition, depending on the purpose of the text, translators often need to have an excellent understanding of English in order to convey the tone of the original text.

Certified professional translators

It would be wonderful if on-line translators, such as Google Translate, would keep evolving, but for now, machines are definitely not reliable. Meanwhile, professional human translators can give you accurate translation, but can be costly. There are different types of translators as well.  ABC Language Services is a US based agency that provides on-site and teleconference interpreting services, as well as document translation services. Certified Professional translation services with reasonable rates are available at places such as immigration settlement services like MOSAIC.

Translation for marketing purposes

What about translations in marketing? While you can probably rely on professional translators for translating legal papers and everything else, translating marketing text is often a completely different story. Marketing copy often include slang,  trendy phrases, or descriptive words/sentences with cultural context. As a marketing tool, the text often needs to convey a feeling that will resonate with the target audience. For example, when translating copy from English into Chinese, there may be quite a few Chinese words that could express the same meaning. However, each word may have its own “personality”: whether it’s an ancient but cool word, an outdated one,  a trendy one, one that could act as a play-on-word to imply another meaning, one that has a negative implication, etc. Which word should be used? You wouldn’t know unless you consult a marketing professional who has mastered both languages.

Each one of these translation services may be a good choice, but for different purposes. An online translator can give you an basic idea of what a foreign language says; a professional translator can help you with translation of legal or technical documents; a marketing professional provides copy to communicate to a specific target audience and achieve marketing objectives.

At Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy, for marketing text, we only copywrite. Our culturally diverse creative teams are masters of their own languages and explicitly understand the cultural implications inherent in their language, as well as the intended English context. Working with our English-speaking team members, they copywrite marketing text to build an emotional connection between the brand, the images, and the cultures — Canadian and non-Canadian cultures.

Not sure if your translated marketing text will resonate or not with your ethnic target market? We can proof it and let you know if anything’s missing the mark or can be improved.