Perhaps you’ve purchased a new bicycle alarm, but, when you open the instruction manual to try to install it, you read:
Sensitivity just. When the unit not work, press “C” and hold on until you hear (you should loose your hands after you hear each sound).
Or you see a workbench in IKEA that you love, although you start to have second thoughts about walking around the store with a large box in your cart that says “Fartfull” in large font. Or, you’re an American pen company that wanted to translate its slogan into Spanish for the Mexican market – “Won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” – but mistook the Spanish verb “embarazar” (which means “to impregnate”) for “embarrass”. One can only imagine the marketing nightmare that this caused!
These are just a handful of the many examples of poorly translated products and instructions that have found their way on to the marketplace. At best, they can be an amusing anecdote that you can share with your friends and co-workers; at worst, they can cause serious harm to the bottom line for a product’s manufacturers.
The Challenge of Entering the Global Marketplace
In an ever more globalized world, where free trade deals are expanding opportunities for international corporations, localization and translation are more important for a company’s success than ever. Moreover, there may be no field where this is becoming ever-more important than industrial manufacturing. Whether you’re selling forklifts or cleaning products, you not only have to concern yourself with localizing your marketing collateral or website for a foreign audience, but you also have to deal with the translation of feasibility studies, technical reports, health & safety documents, material safety data sheets, regulatory documentation, and much more.
While a poorly translated user manual for an alarm clock could irritate some customers, a bad translation of a manual for a medical device could cost lives. Not to mention, poor translations of material safety data sheets or regulatory documentation could disqualify you from entering a particular international market.
In the past, many companies have often relied upon “bilingual” employees (or, more likely, employees who have studied some of the target languages but are far from truly fluent) to translate their materials. And, more recently, many businesses have fallen into the Google Translate trap. While Google Translate has certainly opened up doors to international communication that didn’t exist a decade ago, and the technology is constantly improving, it is still a far-from-perfect system since it is unable to grasp many of the nuances of language that are so vital to localization.
Fortunately, most major international corporations have quickly caught on to the importance of translation and localization, and either maintain qualified in-house linguists to manage the translation of their materials and interpret for important meetings, or they contract professional localization firms to manage this process for them.
Of course, high-quality, professional translation and localization services do not usually come cheap, and the costs for translation services have been increasing exponentially simply due to the massive amount of documentation and content that businesses need to churn out and now translate into dozens of languages to support their international sales and marketing needs.
While the field of industrial manufacturing has undergone radical changes that have continued to streamline and automate many processes, the translation and localization industry has quietly done the same. This technological revolution in the industry has allowed language service providers to keep translation costs down, while providing a higher quality of service, keep up with the ever-increasing volume of content, and provide many value-adding services to their international clients.
For example, the implementation of Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) and Translation Memory technology across the board in most localization providers provides translators with a powerful tool that combines the skills of professional human translators with the efficiency and consistency of machines. These tools allow translators to leverage previously translated content by storing translated segments that they can then automatically re-use when the same (or similar) content appears in the current or any future related translation, manage terminology, and much more. As this cuts down on labor (while also improving consistency, especially when multiple translators are supporting a single project or client), it also greatly reduces the costs.
Many localization providers also nowadays provide robust content management solutions to help their corporate clients manage, process, and track their vast libraries of content more effectively. In fact, many localization providers even provide in-country marketing and transcreation specialists that can advise companies on how to best utilize the linguistic and cultural nuances of a language to market their products overseas, rather than just providing word-for-word translations of key concepts and messages that often don’t translate directly into other cultures.
In conclusion, companies in the industrial manufacturing sector have an ever-increasing need for high-quality translation and localization services, whether this be in marketing their products for an overseas audience or for translating vital regulatory information into various foreign languages. Fortunately, advances in computer-assisted translation technology and the advent of transcreation specialists have made this process more efficient and cost-effective than ever before. When choosing a localization provider – or building an in-house department – it is important that these international corporations keep these tools and resources in mind, in order to ensure that their products don’t get “lost in translation”.
Irving Wittenbur is a writer with DO Supply, Inc. who writes about Automation, Robotics, and Manufacturing. When not writing, Irving can be found in a coffee shop or working on a project in his garage.