The Negative Impact of Bad Translation


Professional translation services are crucial, especially when it involves legal or business decisions to be taken. These decisions will probably be made based on the translated files. Most companies always want to be sure that qualified translators are utilizing a multi-step, thorough, and top quality control process, which will catch any kind of linguistic or technical errors which could impact the accuracy of the final interpretation.  Bad translation can sometimes be funny, but not so funny when it has a negative effect on your business interactions with a foreign investors or when you provide a wrong dosage instruction on a prescription medication bottle. Professional translation services are sometimes an afterthought to legal professionals, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. There are lots of times whereby translations are left in the hand of machines to handle, although this option may save time and money, the result of using this type of translation can be severe in most cases.

Poor translation can damage a company’s image and allow your marketing message to come across as offensive if cultural aspects are not taken into account during the actual translation. Being perceived as unprofessional can make international partners not want to do business with your company and it can also turn customers away from your products or services. This mistake allows room for your competitors to swoop in and collect your potential international customers that you have worked so hard to gain. We regularly deal with clients who come to us after they have had a problem with a translation and the question is always the same, who did this translation for you? The usual reply is an employee who speaks Russian or Chinese, or a friend of a friend who speaks Spanish or Portuguese.

Well, translating your daily correspondence or an email with a colleague may save you time and money, however, when we are talking about important documentation, your employee or friend’s skills may not be enough and this can lead to catastrophic results. When one single word can change the entire meaning of a document, to say you need to be careful is an understatement. When the documents to be translated are a patent or a user manual; would you leave these tasks to an amateur?

Of course, one major area where bad translation can have disastrous results is in legal translation. Poor or bad translation in this aspect can cause significant financial and legal consequences. A translator will need to know the correct terminology, syntax, the law and good writing skills to have the best chance of providing a problem free legal translation service. In handling life changing documents, attention to the smallest detail must be taken. Documents like patents, licenses, immigration documentation, ownership of properties and several others are capable of altering people’s life in countless ways, if they are not properly translated. A person may admit to committing a crime simply because he or she does not understand the language that is been said. Many life consequences can result as a result from bad translation of legal document, this is why proper attention must be given to legal interpretation. In interpreting and translating legal documents, there are many complexities and difficulties that are involved in the translations, so it takes the experience, knowledge and skill of a professional translator to successfully do the job. Here are some of the legal documents that are normally translated:

  • Contracts
  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Copyrights
  • Litigation summaries
  • Financial records
  • Adoption papers
  • Permits
  • Immigration documents
  • Real estate papers and leases
  • Deposition records
  • Service agreement
  • Transcripts
  • Passport.

Proper attention need to be given to all this type of document so as to prevent a lot of negative after-effect. Some of the possible negative outcomes that can occur as a result of bad interpretation of legal documents include:

  • Business Decisions Being Made Off Misinformation
  • Sued For Providing False Information or Instructions
  • Additional Costs
  • Time and Productivity Wasted
  • Reputation Damage
  • Missed Deadlines
  • Loss of Credibility
  • Customer and Sales Loss
  • Conflict with Foreign Partners
  • Offending Potential Clients and Customers

In the medical field, being supplied with correct information is an absolute requirement. Doctors, nurses and medical staff are not able to do their jobs efficiently if they are not provided with the correct information they need to understand symptoms and treat patients. Poorly translated documents can have severe consequences and could potentially lead to a matter of life and death situation. The liability medical staff carries in regards to their patients is high, and when a language barrier is present that often leaves more room for error. For example, in 2013 a hospital in Berlin, Germany fell victim to the repercussions of bad translation, the improper implantation of 47 knee prostheses occurred due to a mistranslated set of instructions in a medical manual. The prostheses were non-modular cemented prostheses, however the instructions that were translated into German read, “Prosthesis requires no cement.” The doctors trusted what the instructions in the manual told them to do, so they implanted 47 knee prosthesis which required cement, without it. One third of the 47 patients that received the surgery complained of problems and half of the patients chose to have an additional surgery to try and correct the problem. Professional medical translation is not only important, but it is vital in providing the best possible care for your patients.

Another example of poor interpretation is the case of an 18-year-old boy, Willie Ramirez who was admitted to a Florida hospital. Families and friends tried to describe his condition to the paramedics and medical personnel who treated him. The only problem they had was that they could only speak Spanish. They went ahead to hire the service of a bilingual staff member of the hospital to translate for them. The staff translated “intoxicado” as “intoxicated”. If a professional interpreter was used, he or she would have known that “intoxicado” is related to “poisoned” and doesn’t have the same connotations of alcohol or drug use, as “intoxicated” does. The family of the boy believed he was suffering from food poisoning, while he was actually suffering from an intracerebral hemorrhage. But based on the provided information and interpretation, the doctors proceeded as if he was suffering from an intentional drug overdose, which sometimes can lead to some of the symptoms displayed. As a result of this, Ramirez was left quadriplegic. Most of the medical documents that requires a professional translator include:

  • Medical records
  • Prescription medication descriptions and dosage instructions
  • Clinical reports
  • Medical device instruction manuals
  • Physician manuals
  • Case reports
  • Clinical study agreements and contracts
  • Patient information leaflets
  • Informed consent forms

Bad translation and a damaged reputation to your company’s name is something that is unwanted, especially when the translation mistakes are an issue you have complete control over. Companies are faced with the possibility of prosecution due to poor translation that gives a misleading information, and you do not want your company to be associated with that type of legal publicity. In running a smooth business, protecting your brand and business should be at the forefront of whatever you do. The possibility of one word been able to throw off the entire intended meaning of a document should scare you enough into realizing that proper translation is needed in everything you do in your company.

How to avoid translation error

Bad translation can be avoided through the use of high quality specialized translation services. The embarrassment, possible medical malpractice and failure of business due to misinterpretation is a serious issue which companies must all avoid. The use of professional translators can be the difference between securing a business deal and losing an investment opportunity altogether. Sacrificing quality will only get you unqualified and inexperienced translators who will also provide poorly translated documents, which will leave your business, legal office or medical facility to face many possible bad consequences.

Professional document translators are generally carefully evaluated, tested and interviewed, depending on a process that is created by their service company. They are tested to meet up with the standard quality requirements that is needed in the patent business. Professional translators will help you to avoid costly translation and interpretation errors, especially when you are listed with a high quality translation service company that utilizes a thorough quality control process just to ensure that all their translations are not only linguistically correct but also technically and culturally accurate as well. Professional companies like this typically use some sort of proprietary top-quality control process to review all their translations. They make sure that all their work are edited along with proofreading by native language speakers, just to confirm for linguistic accuracy and reliability and then further assessed by an in-house technologists for accuracy regarding all technical words and phrasing.

Linguist Point aims to bridge the linguistic gap between businesses, cultures and people across the UK and Beyond. We enable businesses to engage and communicate with global audience efficiently in more  than 100 languages. Contact us today and navigate in the international waters safely 020 8523 5791