Horror Stories

Be A-Scared, Be Very A-Scared

If only these horrors weren't true.

Boy, could we tell you tales of translation woe. As with any business, ours is full of deadlines, challenges, and dramas which make daily life so full (and interesting). Not all of these stories involve us directly; it's more like we were asked to visit the scene of an accident and to put the cars back together before the ambulance leaves. Often, we can help (we try). But sometimes, we're too late.

The designers of a company's original documentation and advertising were also hired to handle the page layout for German, French, Spanish, and Italian. We asked if the designers had any experience doing this. The client didn't think so hired us to proof the translation layout to ensure correctness. Between the hours NOW Translations spent correcting, re-correcting, and trying to give quick tips on foreign page layout (all four languages have different hyphenation, capitalization, and punctuation conventions), not to mention phoning and faxing back and forth, the client spent nearly twice as much as if we had done the proofing and page layout for them.

No Wonder It's Free
A company NOW Translations was eager to work for decided to let a distributor handle the translation of their 200 page manual and packaging because the distributor insisted it would be done for free. Six months later, after asking to see the translation several times (and after the product had long been on foreign shelves), the client finally received the distributor "translation," a two-page, typed overview of the product and a customer service number.

Lost And Re-Lost In The Translation
NOW Translations was asked to QC a project for an international firm that had to produce instructions in several languages. In addition, there was updated material which had to be translated, edited, and incorporated into the original. The problem: the first translation had been slipshod, with too much of the original text misunderstood or simply poorly translated. That was bad already, but this sad translation was, in turn, used to translate into another language. The second language team did its best, but could only translate what they grasped the text to mean, continuing the errors and adding new ones. By the time we got the translation, there was little time and the company had virtually no money left to fix the myriad mistakes.

A Diamond By Any Other Name
A company asked NOW Translations to translate "The Diamond Series" into German. The ad copy was, "Diamonds are judged by the Four Cs: Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat." We told them that we couldn't quote on such an ad. They asked why since they'd gotten quotes from other translation firms. We said "Because it can't be translated. First, Diamonds aren't judged that way in Germany, so the concept of the 'Four Cs' is unknown. Second, the alliteration of the Four Cs, while catchy in English, doesn't work in German for a basic reason: German has no words which begin with "C"; in fact, none of the possible translations for the four words begin with the same letter. The entire concept of the ad and the creative spin of the Four Cs is lost on your target audience. You're going to spend several thousand dollars just to place these color ads in magazines. Take the time to rewrite the copy for your foreign market or you're throwing your money away." They listened and that's exactly what the client did. After that, the translation was a success.

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