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Protecting a Company's Image in Foreign Languages

How to guarantee image preservation during video translation, avoiding ridicule and loss of profit.
How to guarantee image preservation during video translation, avoiding ridicule and loss of profit.
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How to guarantee image preservation during translation, avoiding ridicule and loss of profit.

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In Turkey, two men were killed as a result of a missing dot over an “i” in an SMS message – a letter missing on their cellphone. In a documentary, “Vietnam vet” was translated as “veterinarians from Vietnam”. In a video translation, the "Society of Concerned Scientists" was translated in German as “Society of Worried Scientists”, and in Russian as "Society of Horny Scientists". In an eLearning project, the expression “Quit upon reasonable notice” was translated as “Leave with a reasonable reason” by a professional translator with a PhD. When asked about his discrepancy, the translator stated that he had considered the (correct) possibility, but dismissed it as being ridiculous, because people cannot just quit…” Then he gasped in shock, “Americans can just quit their jobs?!!?”

According to an SDL survey, translation and localization errors cause lost revenue in 80% of global firms. And 40% reported delayed product launches or fines for non-compliance. According to @International Services with 30 years in translation of major media, television, marketing, and corporate projects, over 90% of independent video directors and producers risk their entire reputation – and that of their clients - by placing full responsibility for foreign versions upon the shoulders of one single translator or voice talent. The “burn rate” is 30% or higher, all because the media professional cannot control their project in a language they do not speak. Yet there is a way to slash the burn rate from 30% to 0%.

Google-it

Even 5 minutes of googling a culture to make a lifestyle comparison against a proposed advertisement or commercial will avoid many common faux-pas. Examples: the shipping company’s promotional video translation promised that any 200-pound purchase will be delivered by courier in a country where couriers ride bicycles, or the sales promo for giant screen TVs depicting blond children watching a massive home entertainment center in a country where everyone has black hair and no one has an entertainment center. Countries without stock options or money market accounts are confused by translations of financial terminology, and if your advert sells homes or property, a bit of research clarifies that people in China cannot actually own land and thus may not comprehend the basics of real estate.

Mirror reflection may be muddy

Double-meanings and potential negative impacts of translated marketing messages and product names merit consideration. An “EnviroMist” campaign touting a product as the “Breath of Good Health” may fell apart in Germany where “Mist” is a crass word for excrement renowned for its stink. And the principles touted in corporate ethics training video translations may be destined for cultures that do not have a word for “ethics” in their language and live daily on bribery. And a colloquial translation, such as a Southern dialect video script that “might could have been” charming in its original form, may cause international investors to fear that the entire town is illiterate due to the incorrect grammar.

Protecting the company image

Every marketer, trainer, and videographer has only one chance to communicate, one first impression, one opportunity to be perfectly clear from the viewer’s perspective. Yet so many creators take a “hands-off” approach to translation, placing entire trust into one pair of hands. When image is paramount, repeated exposure of a translation to focus groups or individuals can be very helpful. Yet on the downside, there will be as many opinions as there are people in a general audience, and a high percentage of those opinions may be wholly misleading.

There is one almost sure-fire way to guarantee protection of a company’s image: by obtaining the opinion of a translation from at least one – preferably three - persons who obtained their PhD’s in a variety of fields from universities in the target country. PhD’s tend not to have personal agendas; they think seriously, carefully, and clearly before reaching rational conclusions. These traits make PhD’s unemotional reviewers and therefore reliable. Then listen carefully to the smallest detail in their report. A PhD will often be low-key in their expression, and many company executives gloss over soft comments such as “the video edits may be too quick” or “it sounds a bit exaggerated”. PhD reviewers will use conditional tenses, because they rarely think in absolutes, yet every word in their reports will carry weight. These details – often ignored – may become the exact cause of poor feedback from the target audience. Thus, although it may not be easy to find a great translator or translation company, it is easy to prevent damage from an erroneous translation. Not cheap, but easy.

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About the author:
Sue Reager is CEO of @International Services, http://www.internationalservices.com, with 30 years experience in media and video translation for major film, television, advertising, and corporate projects. Sue Reager speaks 10 languages, has worked in 17 countries, and regularly records narration and lip sync in 70 cities. Reager’s expertise is coupled with special skills in media adaptation for the target culture and music localization. Her firm develops language software for media professionals including Web subtitle software and real-time voice translation software that translates voices and narrators as they speak.