Going Global? Translators can help you Break the Barrier of Language!

This is a guest post by Alexander Zeller


It might seem a heady dream for any business to contemplate expanding past their normal commercial frontier, especially if they think they have something that can beat the socks off the competition that exists already.

For any would-be global business there is of course an important hurdle – the barrier of language. It’s hard to break this barrier without considerable investment in marketing the product the business wishes to sell. It’s one thing having a great website, for instance, and fantastic advertising using the full range of media in one’s own country, but who is going to understand it all elsewhere? Even when the language is as international as English, the reality is that many potential customers only relate to messages in their own language.

When the business is based in a nation whose language is limited geographically, those language barriers are considerable. How does a Turkish company get its sales message across when practically no-one speaks Turkish outside Turkey? How does a Swedish company get its message across when no-one speaks Swedish outside Sweden?

The answer is the use of a good translation service to break the considerable barriers to success that language can impose. It’s not just a matter of using an app. to make a rough translation of your website and any other marketing material, packaging instructions and so on. That sort of level of translation is fine for casual communication. If you are a business person, for instance, who wants to be understood when travelling abroad for a conference or a meeting, using computer aided translation is fine. It’s a different ball game when making your product accessible and available to a wider global market. Customers are choosy. They are unlikely to be convinced that a product is worth buying if the translation is amateurish or poorly done, or even worse, culturally insensitive.

The choice of a good translation service is important for the would-be global business looking to expand their market beyond the language barrier. It’s important to choose a translator that is used to translating marketing material and has expertise in the language or languages you need for the new market targeted. It may not be so obvious just how important it is to get the marketing message across to a specific target group. Are they male or female? Are they young or old? Is there a dialect to consider? Marketing messages need to tune into the idiom of the market.

Once a translator is found or translation service that fits the bill, it’s important to provide sufficient information about exactly what you want translated and how you want it translated. Effective two way communication between you and the translator is really crucial to get the best out of what you will be paying for.

Alexander ZellerAlexander Zeller is a project manager and translator working with The Migration Translators in Australia, providing legal, medical, business, marketing, technical and website translation services in over 130 Languages. 

11 examples of what can go wrong in translation of marketing materials

Do you know what your business slogans are saying to the world?

mistakeWith advances within social media and technology, word of mouth truly has become ‘world of mouth.’ Most businesses centralize their global Twitter and Facebook efforts. It has huge benefits, yet it also is vital that you have involvement at a local level; from those who really understand the marketplace language and nuances. We reside within a global economy and therefore it is critical that we have an understanding of our world. Here are 11 examples of translations of marketing material that went wrong:

  1. The successful ‘Got Milk’ campaign that came from The Dairy Association as utilized in Mexico brought lots of attention, as it translated into ‘Are You Lactating?’
  2. The company Coors Brewing’s campaign slogan ‘Turn it loose’ as converted to Spanish actually means ‘Suffer from diarrhea’.
  3. Clairol introduced a curling iron named ‘Mist Stick’ within Germany. Mist in German will be slang for manure. It turned out that manure sticks are not popular in Germany.
  4. Panasonic and Matsushita were to introduce a computer that had an Internet browser within Japan. They were supposed to run a massive marketing campaign utilizing Woody Woodpecker, the cartoon character. Their campaign was placed on hold as an American worker figured out that the translation actually was ‘Touch Woody – Internet Pecker.’ It’s bad in American slang.
  5. In China, Pepsi translated their campaign slogan, ‘Pepsi will Bring You Back to Life.’ In Chinese, this slogan means, ‘Pepsi will Bring Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.’
  6. In France, Colgate introduced toothpaste underneath the name Cue. That is, unfortunately, the exact same name as one ill-famed porno magazine.
  7. In Mexico, Parker Pen wanted its ads to parlay ‘It will not leak in your pocket and embarrass you.’ The company instead believed that the term ‘embarazar’ (to impregnate) was supposed to mean to embarrass, therefore the advertisement stated: ‘It will not leak inside your pocket and make you pregnant.’
  8. Frank Perdue’s statement, ‘It will take a rough man to make a tender chicken,’ is somewhat different within the Spanish language – ‘It will take a sexually stimulated male in order to make a chicken affectionate.’
  9. Braniff Airways had a desire to spotlight ‘Fly in Leather’ yet in Spanish it actually said ‘Fly Naked.’
  10. A Scandinavian vacuum cleaner, Electrolux, utilized the following within the United States: ‘Nothing will suck like an Electrolux.’
  11. In Southeast Asia, Pepsi lost its market share as it changed its vending machines from a deep blue to a light blue. Unfortunately, in Southeast Asia, light blue includes a symbol of mourning and death.

The lesson to be learned here is that mistranslations are sloppy marketing. Therefore, when translating your marketing material or anything business related, it is best to contact a professional translator. A professional translator will ensure that everything that is presented to the public is appropriate and suitable for the intended audience.

If you are marketing to Sweden, contact Swedish Translation Services to make sure that your slogans and marketing materials come across as intended.

Upcoming presentations on localization and translation

Conference season is upon us and I thought I would share some upcoming presentations I will be giving.

buttonAmerican Translators Associations annual conference is taking place Nov. 7-9 in San Antonio, Texas. The conference is packed with educational and informational presentations and I will be presenting on the following two topics.

Together with my colleague Eve Bodeux, owner of Bodeux International, based in Colorado:

Two sides of a coin in software localization and translation – a translator’s view versus a project manager’s view

In today’s global economy software localization is one of the most sought-after and lucrative specializations for technical translators. This presentation will show the software localization process from a project manager’s view and a translators view, detailing the process, the translators role in it, give some practical guidelines for what to do and not to do in software localization, show some online resources for software localization, explain how to achieve consistency and why QA and testing are indispensable before releasing a software translation.

For the Nordic Division in ATA:

Common pitfalls when translating from English into Scandinavian

Sometimes it is obvious when reading a translation of an English text that it is indeed a translation from English. Perhaps the sentence structure is strange, or the measurements or currencies are not written correctly for the Scandinavian market. This presentation will show 10 categories of common mistakes when translating from English into Scandinavian languages, based on experience from a grader and test evaluator. The intention of this presentation is to increase awareness of common mistakes in order to identify and avoid them, and be able to produce better translations; plus give linguistic resources to aid Scandinavian translators.

I hope I will see you there.

And lastly, back by popular demand, I will be giving an online presentation through ProZ on December 3rd, 2013:

Creating and optimizing a website for your translation business

Deciding to create a website for your professional freelance translation business is one of the best ways to maximize your business success. This session will show you how you how to create your own website at no or low cost, without having to know html or hire a web designer. The session presents what content you should include and how to make it more visible online. Specific examples of website content for linguists will be discussed, plus some dos and don’ts in website creation and maintenance.

Registration for this online training is now open.


Upcoming presentations on translation and localization

This spring I have presented locally in Sweden on translation and marketing for translators but the planning for the fall season has started. This fall I will be presenting again at the American Translators Associations annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. Here is a is a brief introduction on the presentation topics.

Together with my dear colleague Eve Bodeux from Bodeux International I will give a presentation on localization, called “Two sides of a coin: software localization seen from both the translator and project manager’s perspectives”.

In today’s global economy, software localization is one of the most sought-after and lucrative specializations for technical translators. This presentation will show the software localization process from both the project manager’s view and the translator’s view, detailing the process from file preparation to delivery. It will also provide practical guidelines for “do’s” and “don’ts” in the localization process, share resources and offer techniques for ensuring consistency as well as a discussion on why QA and testing are indispensable before releasing a localized software product.

For the Nordic Division I will also give a presentation on “Common pitfalls when translating from English into Scandinavian”.

Sometimes it is obvious when reading a translation of an English text that it is indeed a translation from English. Perhaps the sentence structure is strange, or the measurements or currencies are not written correctly for the Scandinavian market. This presentation will show 10 categories of common mistakes when translating from English into Scandinavian languages, based on experience from a grader and test evaluator. The intention of this presentation is to increase awareness of common mistakes in order to identify and avoid them, and be able to produce better translations; plus give linguistic resources to aid Scandinavian translators.

If you have any questions or suggestions on these topics, you are more than welcome to share. I hope to see you at the ATA conference.

6 Reasons Not to Use Software for Your Business Translations

While I am travelling across Europe with my family. I will feature a guest post that I really like. This one is authored and provided by Affordable Language Services, a Cincinnati-based business translation and interpreting company.

In today’s global economy, business translation is a must for companies wanting to extend their reach. To help keep costs down, however, some choose to use automated translation software instead of hiring the expertise of a professional business translator. While this choice is initially less expensive, the consequences of such a shortcut can be costly. Keep reading to learn why you should not use software for your business translation needs.

 1. Translation software is never error-proof.

 In 2010, a Reuters article told the world about the underlying dangers of relying on automated software for business translations. The news story highlighted a pharmacy that used such software to translate prescription labels that were written in English into Spanish. After reviewing the results in the medical journal Pediatrics, Julia Tse and Dr. Iman Sharif pointed out several deadly errors. For example, in English, the instructions told patients to take a pill “once a day.” The translating software failed to translate the word “once” into Spanish correctly and instructed patients to take the medication 11 times per day, as the word “once” in Spanish means “eleven.” A professional business translator would never make such a mistake.

 In a separate incident, when a medical group used translating software for prostate medication labels, four prostate cancer patients in Epinal, France died because of the erroneous dosage instructions. Regardless of advances in technology, business translation software can never take the place or match the accuracy of an expert human business translator.

 2. Translation software is not sensitive to idioms.

 Language creates meaning as much as it conveys meaning. A culture in one part of the world thinks differently than the culture on the opposite end of the globe because of the ideas that differ between words and phrases. For example, the English phrase, “on the other hand,” does not mean “alternatively” in most other parts of the world.

 When brewing company Coors once tried to sell its beer in Spain, it directly translated its marketing slogan, “Turn it loose,” into Spanish. While English speakers in the U.S. understand the phrase as an encouragement to have a good time, the literal translation in Spanish relates more to the “loose” action one may encounter with diarrhea.

 3. Some words simply don’t exist in other languages.

 When a word doesn’t exist in the destination language, translation software cannot help. A business translation professional has an understanding of the culture that speaks the desired language, so he or she can accurately express the vocabulary and ideas. While an equivalent word may not exist from one language to the next, a business translator bridges the lexical gap with an appropriate phrase.

 An example of such a word is gobbledygook, which exists only in the English language. Every language has its own unique words that automated translation software cannot translate. Such a translation blunder can hinder a company’s bottom line or encourage foreign prospects to not close a deal. Professional business translation services understand these circumstances as well as the culture of the language at hand, and can provide clients with high-quality translations that aid business communications. 

 4. Automated translation software is not dialect-specific.

 In the U.S., the storage space in the back of a car is called a trunk. In the U.K, the same part of the car is called a boot. Language dialects differ around the world – and even by region. For example, some of the words used in Mexico have a different meaning in Spain. Among the 30 languages in India, there exist more than 2,000 dialects. These differences make business translation more challenging and create greater room for error when using translation software. Because business translations require specificity, a translator must know the differences among dialects to properly convey the intended meaning. Specificity and cultural knowledge are things that automated translation software lacks. 

 5. Literal translations usually don’t make sense.

 There are a few occasions when you can successfully translate a phrase into another language word-for-word. For example, the Spanish phrase “sangre azul” means “blue blood,” and both phrases refer to wealthy individuals. Most of the time, however, literal translations make no sense and confuse the true meaning. Oftentimes, idiomatic phrases are to blame. For example, when you ask someone in Costa Rica how they are, they often say, “Pura vida,” which literally means, “Pure life.” “Pura vida” in this Latin American country is a statement that expresses one is well. Outside of the Costa Rican culture, saying one has a pure life can convey a handful of different meanings.

 6. Translation software neglects sophisticated writing techniques.

 Automated translation software does not pick up on wordplay, puns and metaphors the way a human business translator can. If you use software, you run the huge risk of having your ideas get literally lost in translation, which can ultimately make you look foolish, culturally insensitive or both.

Lynn Elfers is the CEO of Affordable Language Services, a Cincinnati-based business translation and interpreting company that specializes in business, legal and medical interpreting and translation services in over 150 languages and dialects. Lynn’s experience as a volunteer missionary for years in Central America ultimately led to starting her own translation service to help individuals bridge the language gap in crucial situations like the doctor’s office and court room. She has been providing language tutoring and translation services for over 16 years.

Languages mean business

There are small and mid-sized companies think that the need for translation and localization of their business communication is something that only big companies can afford or need to do. My question is; can you afford not to use translation and localization in today’s global markets? During my conference in Sweden I found out about an initiative from the European Commission called “Languages mean business” that I would like to share with you.

Many companies still lose a lot of business due to linguistic and cultural obstacles. A European study shows that small to mid-sized companies who apply a linguistic strategy can increase their sales with up to 25%.

The goal of the initiative is to increase small and mid-sized companies’ use of foreign languages and show them how this can increase their possibilities for increased revenue and trade across country borders. A successful language strategy can start with small steps and the initiative gives tips on how to turn foreign languages into success, such as adapting the website to different languages and cultures, recruiting native speakers and professional translators and many more. It is a valuable resource for all companies doing business or wanting to do business internationally.

More information, results from surveys, stories from successful companies can be found at http://ec.europa.eu/languages/languages-mean-business.

Ensure a successful translation by providing the following information to the translator

During my nearly 10 years of working as a freelance translator I have worked with many clients, both direct clients and language service companies. Some of my clients provide almost too much information, making it hard to sift through and get started, and some provide too little, making it hard to know what style is expected etc. Here are some guidelines for what I would like to see the client provide for a translation project.


  1. The text in editable format is preferred, so I can use a translation memory tool. This will ensure consistency for both current material, old material, and future material.
  2. Information on the end client is, preferred style, whether the material will be published externally or if it is internal company communication.
  3. A reasonable deadline.; a professional translator translates on average about 2500 words per day with good quality.
  4. Whether the text will be proofread/edited by a second linguist or not, or if I should find a proofreader/editor for the text.
  5. If possible, provide a glossary with preferred terms, definitions of acronyms and proper nouns that should be left untranslated
  6. A purchase order stating the agreed rate for the project, deadline, payment terms, your address and contact information
  7. An email address and/or a telephone number to a contact person who will be available to answer questions that might arise during the translation process
  8. Any feedback from the client after they have received the translation

Do you agree? Please share!

Writing English for a global audience – recommendations

I have been working half time for a week while enjoying another passion,  independent, international films at the Sundance Film Festival. This year I signed up as a volunteer to be able to truly immerse myself in international movies. The experience can be summarized with: ‎10 days, 10 amazing movies, 26 volunteer hours, new and old friends, interesting people, celebrities, music cafe, and parties. Now back to sitting at the computer more, sleeping more, seeing the sun and family more, and resuming my sorely neglected exercise routine.

During this week Eve Bodeux, an expert localization and translation colleague, published a great post on “Writing for Translation”, with some resource tips for people who write English content for an international audience One of my favorites was among her recommendations, and I want to emphasize it for everyone who needs to write English content for a global audience. It is the book “The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market” by John Kohl.

Here is an excerpt from the book description: “This detailed, example-driven guide illustrates how much you can do to make written texts more suitable for a global audience. Accompanied by an abundance of clearly explained examples, the Global English guidelines show you how to write documentation that is optimized for non-native speakers of English, translators, and even machine-translation software, as well as for native speakers of English.”

This book goes hand in hand with another one of my favorite resources for my clients, i.e. “Plain Language”, which is a movement for clarity, brevity, and precision − and above all, readability.

As a translator and localizer of English written text into Swedish, it is my wish that my clients would take the advice in these two resources to heart. This will not only make texts easier to translate and localize, it will also save money for the clients, since misunderstandings or mistranslations can be avoided and time saved in the translation/localization process.

Interview with a small localization boutique

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Eve Bodeux and her company Bodeux International LLC, a small localization company located in Colorado. Since I specialize in the translation side of localization, I wanted to provide personal insights about the rest of the localization process and on managing a small localization company. Here is my interview with Eve.

Eve Lindemuth Bodeux has been active in the translation and localization industries for over 15 years. She has broad experience that covers all aspects of these industries as well as proven success in managing international projects for a variety of clients. She integrates insider knowledge of the localization process with language-specific, technical and cultural considerations. She has graduate degrees from both a US university and a French university, is a voting member of the American Translators Association and Vice President of the Colorado Translators Association. She frequently presents on language industry-related topics, in the US and Europe.

Please describe Bodeux International as a small “boutique” localization company.

Bodeux International provides localization, translation and specialized project management. The goal is to offer focused expertise and a highly personalized approach to clients in the technology and medical device industries. I know that many in the language industry who offer project management services work as a subcontract to agencies. That is not the case for Bodeux International. I work directly with end clients.

 You have been working in the localization industry for over 15 years, please tell me about your roles there and which role was the most enjoyable?

 I started out working as a translation recruiter (screening, training and hiring freelance translators on a large scale) for what, back then, was one of the larger localization companies (and has since been folded into one of today’s larger localization companies). I enjoyed it because I was able to learn a lot about the technical side of the business while also focusing on the linguistic side – an interesting mixture of right and left brain activities! I interacted with hundreds, if not thousands, of linguistic professionals and received an excellent education into the worlds of translation and localization. I have also spent many years managing complex, multi-lingual translation projects and my original entry into the industry as a recruiter helps me to see both sides of the equation: the translators point of view as well as the “agency’s” point of view. This has helped me to be able to tightly manage projects for clients but also approach them in a translator-friendly way. My contacts with translators over the years has also allowed me to organically increase my pool of excellent translators in many languages and this a great benefit to my clients. Over the years, I have also been involved in testing, translation as a translator (from French to English), engineering and sales support. I would say that my favorite role has been as the principal of my own company in that I get to interact with so many interesting clients and vendors at the same time. No day is the same and problem-solving to find the right solutions is a fun challenge.

 Do you do mostly project management or translation these days?

My career has always favored the management side, but over the years, I have also been involved in some very interesting French to English translation projects. As I mentioned above, I like to keep active on both sides of the equation because it keeps me focused on what is important in the industry and prevents me from having a one-sided view of the entire process.

 Where are the majority of Bodeux International’s clients located? Europe? USA? Elsewhere?

 Most of my clients, believe it or not, are local. I do have clients throughout the US and also in Europe, but I think for the close relationships that I build with my clients, and the type of client that is a good fit for me (someone who understands the value of a high-level project manager), the in-person relationship is key. I am also quite selective about my clients since there is only one of me and I can only accomplish so much in a day. I work with people who value my own expertise but also value why translation and localization are important.

 What language do you provide localization services in? Are you working more with certain languages than others?

 The most requested languages in my business in the past few years have been Western European languages, Latin American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese and Simplified Chinese. Over the years, I have had solid experience dealing with Eastern European languages as well. While, of course, I do not speak all these languages, I pride myself on being aware of the various technical issues that can arise with each of these languages, or sets of languages. I consider myself more tech savvy than your average localization project manager. My clients value this as well. Related to that, I think it is important to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses so that you can offer your clients a truly exceptional service. For that reason, I normally do not run Arabic or Hebrew projects since they are quite culturally and technically challenging. However, I can partner with services providers for these languages if they are part of a larger project, or simply refer my clients to a different service provider if that is a better solution for their particular need.

 Do you have a specific process you follow for your localization projects? If so, please describe.

 One thing that differentiates me from the larger localization companies is that, as a project manager, I gave a great deal of flexibility in how I can approach client projects, to their benefit. My in-depth understanding of the process allows me to be very flexible in applying that expertise to what my clients’ projects require. Therefore, while I definitely have a methodology to achieve the most efficient path to a successful localization product, I like to assess each client’s project and goals individually and propose a customized plan that fits, on one hand, their linguistic needs, but also their specific business case.

 Thanks, Tess, for interviewing me! I have enjoyed the opportunity to share my thoughts about my own company, but also about the industry as a whole, with your readers.

Notes about the emerging role of Machine Translation Post Editing from FIT2011 presentation

One of the most discussed and attended events for translators during the FIT XIX World Congress were Rosana Wolochwianski’s presentation on Machine Translation Post Editing. Since I believe that Machine Translation is here to stay, whether we like it or not, I wanted to hear more about Post Editing. I found her presentation very enlightening and particularly liked the interviews with current post editors. Here is a summary of what she said.

Translation is changing in the information age. Electronic technologies now allow multilingual and semiautomatic text generation with translation memory systems, content management systems, terminology management systems and machine translation systems. The development has led to cheaper, more accessible, faster translations that are easy to update and highly consistent. This means that translators can produce more in less time.

There are two different uses of machine translated text; translation aimed at assimilation by the user and translation aimed at dissemination (spreading) by the user. For many companies, translations aimed at assimilation (for their own consumption) does not have to have such high quality, but translation aimed for publishing should still be reviewed and corrected by professionals. Professional translators usually always strive for optimum quality. These are called “traditional” translators in this presentation. However, current end users might not always strive for optimum quality.

So what is involved in machine translation post editing?

Rosana divided post editing work into three stages:

          The pre-editing phase

          The MT-tool selection phase

          The MT post editing phase

The pre-editing phase is a necessary stage for successful use of machine translation. This is when you remove typos and spelling mistakes, unnecessary hard returns or format issues from the text. Non-translatable items are also tagged.

To select the right MT-tool, you need to first perform a good analysis of the project details. Is there a reliable and large TM, does the target language have strong syntax requirements, or would a hybrid tool be appropriate, such as a tool trained for a specific client?

There are different types of MT post editing. Complete post editing is when high quality is required; the only aim is to improve speed. Then there is minimal post editing, which oftentimes generates resistance. Finally there is rapid post editing, when you only remove blatant and significant errors and is only for understandability. The two latter types are the ones that “traditional” translators have a hard time stomaching, since we only strive for the best linguistic rendering. ‘’

Pros and Cons of Machine Translation Post Editing vs. Translation

+ Time gain+ Nothing is skipped or repeated+ No typos or spelling mistakes introduced

+ No “blank page effect”

+ Large volumes of work available

– Recurring errors- Typos or spelling mistakes in original are not recognized- Non-translatable elements get translated

– Dull or non-user friendly interfaces

– Constant exposure to flawed language

– Lower quality environment/less creativity

– Unrealistic expectations

– Pressure to lower rates


What is needed from a post-editor?

– Long-term commitment to improve both the editor’s skills and the machines skills.

– Innovative responses to MT-errors

– Creative problem-solving

– Good keyboarding skills

– Certain degree of tolerance

– Ability to draw clear boundaries between improvements and corrections (just as a regular editor)


What does a post-editor need?


– Be able to volunteer for the task and not be forced into the role

– Be given time to learn

– Be heard when they refer a problem

– Receive proper training

– Be paid according to the time and effort applied

– Alternate with other tasks, in order to keep sharp


The machine translation post editor is a growing profession. In order for the post editor to thrive it is important that the post-editor is seen as a valuable part of the machine translation process, more as a co-developer, who can provide important information and innovation and improve performance by providing constant feedback, suggesting improvements and developing new solutions.