5 translation errors that ruin your international expansion strategy

translation errors

Translation errors: not helpful at all!

Translation errors is a no go when selling a product or service abroad, which involves a strategy that should be aligned with your needs and those of an increasingly demanding international market. Don’t ruin your chance to go international!

Opening up to the international market is a challenge for companies at a strategic and resource level. So it is necessary to have the right professionals to help you in the process. Selling abroad is not as easy as translating your website with automatic translators and voila (with the translation errors that go with it!)

Translation Errors Have Serious Consequences on Image, Positioning and Profitability

It is a very common mistake to think that going international is only about translating your content automatically. As a matter of fact, having translation errors will only have serious consequences in terms of image, positioning and profitability. When you make the decision to expand abroad, it is necessary to adapt the content to the country you want to sell. A translation should convey the desired message and not harm you in the short, medium and long term.

Automatic Translators Should Not Be a Valid Option

Using Google Translate and other automatic translators should not be a valid option for your business. There are many translation professionals with extensive experience who should be able to offer you a quality service.

A badly translated product is a failed project.

Five translation errors (list not exhaustive)

Literal translation

Literal translation is not always the most appropriate choice.

It is essential to interpret the text to adapt it to the cultural and social context of the target language without losing its real meaning.

A great example of what not to do when it comes to literal translation is what the well-known American airline Braniff Airlines did. To promote their new leather seat design, they ​​created the following slogan ‘Fly in leathers’.

In the United States, this slogan was very well received with very good results. A problem appeared when they tried to incorporate this new slogan into their international strategy with a literal translation.

In Spanish-speaking countries, this slogan became a mockery. The word “leather” in Spanish (cueros) means “naked’. Therefore, the company decided to adapt the slogan by making it singular at a later stage.

The adaptation of the slogan to all destination countries had not been taken into account. It led to a bad image and, above all, great losses.

False friends

Other translation errors come from ‘false friends’. Those are terms that are phonetically similar with our language, but give a wrong meaning.

There are areas of expertise that are more likely to come across these types of terms, such as medical, sworn or legal translation. It is essential that these words are known so that translation errors caused do not lead to serious consequences.

An example of this type of error is the one made by the Parker Pen Company. They created a slogan ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.’

At first glance, it seems like a good and accurate slogan. Yet, the same slogan in Spanish-speaking countries came out with an inaccurate and unprofessional translation: ‘It will not leak into your pocket, nor will it make you pregnant. Here the “false friend” of translating “embarrass” as pregnant in Spanish is clear.

Obviously, the company became the object of ridicule worldwide and is still remembered today for this gaffe. It is a shame that marketing teams spend their time and effort to create such successful campaigns and that due to a translation error, all that work was diminished.

Unfortunate Brand Name

Often, the choice of a name is made based on basic requirements of personal taste and usability in the country in which the company was created.

An example of translation errors was the choice of the brand name Nissan chose in Japan and India. The company created a new model to be marketed also in Spain, called Nissan Moco under the slogan: “You can keep the mucus anywhere. ”

Obviously it did not go unnoticed. A great controversy was created around this brand so it was not finally commercialized.


Phonetics sometimes determine translation and you have to be very careful with the name you assign to brands or products.

This is what happened to Coca Cola. They wanted to expand to the Chinese market and adapted their name with the result / Kekoukela / that literally translated to “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on the dialect. Later, Coke researched 40,000 Chinese characters to find the phonetic equivalent, “kekoukele”, meaning “happiness in the mouth” in Chinese.

One can see how the intention of approaching the target audience sometimes does not work if they are not done with professionals.

Failure to correct errors

The famous phrase’ To err is human’ is not a valid excuse.

If on top of that, a company makes an error, not being able to correct it can be disastrous in the long term.

A clear example is that of the famous Spanish brand Cola Cao, with its controversial advertising. In 1955, the company promoted its product by telling a story of a black boy from Tropical Africa who made a chocolate for fair-skinned athletes to consume the product.

Perhaps at that time it was in line with the social and cultural environment of the moment. Later, this campaign accompanied Cola Cao’s image throughout its entire trajectory, being visible that today it is still active both in its packaging and in its advertisements.

The main problem is the arrival of social networks and their virality. In 2017, they generated a campaign against the brand under the hashtag #ColacaoNosInsultal. This campaign produced a very negative reaction from consumers in the digital world, led by important public figures and influencers.

Cola Cao did not seem to care too much about what was happening and continued with his campaigns, justifying that the image of the black boy was funny.

Obviously, in addition to these five translation errors, spelling, conjugation and syntax errors must be taken care of. But that’s another story. Yet, it shows it’s important to entrust your translation project to a professional translator.

How do you become a translator?

Become a translator piece by piece

How to become a translator?

How to become a translator? There is no simple answer to that question. A career in translation is like a book. It is made of several chapters, many stories. It is not just a question of knowing several languages. Otherwise, many people would become a translator.

What do I need to do to become a translator?

First of all, if I’m being honest, I would make sure that apart from the fact that you should like languages, you should enjoy being in front of a computer, translating all kinds of content.

Particularly at the beginning, when you may have to translate different materials because you don’t have a lot of choice. So If you want to become a translator, you should really be curious about all sorts of things. What you are translating may not be a topic that you are passionate about, but you’ll learn a little from everything”

What does a translator translate?

I started translating very technical documents and later, I would read instruction manuals with more interest or even, after translating a gigantic project on oil prospecting, I would be very excited to visit an oil museum in United States, which contains all kinds of instruments that I would recognise thanks to what I had translated.

As of today, I translate and review video games, marketing and a lot of software, and I love it, but before that, I translated things that were not ideal, but that interested me equally. Even sometimes, there are heavy things that I translate or review on a daily basis, but I like those things equally or at least, I do not dislike them.

Therefore, before saying ‘how do I look for clients or companies to work as a translator’, I would like you to ask yourself if you really see yourself doing that. It’s easy to imagine translating the latest Resident Evil or the latest success series, but you always have to do a bit of everything; Ask other professional translators, to see what they tell you.

Do I need a degree to become a translator?

I say this because you will have to invest a lot of time in training. A degree in Translation or Interpreting or a specialised master’s degree if you come from another career is important today.

Is it possible to become a translator without a degree?

Of course, there are great translators who have not studied Translation. But today, what matters most is, most translation companies and clients already have many translators to choose from – there is a lot of competition – who have that basic training, so you will be at a disadvantage if you don’t own a degree.

As you can see, it is very important that things are clear in your head about what it is to be a translator.

Should I become a translator?

Many people think that being a translator would be an ideal job for them because you stay quietly at home and you make some money. Yet, translation can be laborious and goes well beyond being a simple hobby with a bonus in the end.

If you think that, chances that you throw the towel after a few months is quite high because you can’t find what you’re looking for, because you do not like what you do or because you not making as much money as you think you would.

Having said that, then how do you really start if you already have minimal training?

Well, first of all, start consulting translation company directories for offers. I always like to recommend ProZ.com, not necessarily for the offers themselves (they are not all interesting and/or well-paid and there is a lot of competition), but because you can get a list of agencies, filter them and there you have a list of companies you can contact. I also recommend having a profile in ProZ.

On the other hand, you should be well aware of social networks such as LinkedIn.

Of course, I would recommend that you write down which companies you sent your curriculum to in an Excel spreadsheet, note if they responded. At the same time, try and customise your email, try to be creative. By the way, make sure your resume is well designed and that it really sets you apart from the rest of the candidates.

Make it piece by piece, and become a translator

Warren Buffet said: “Don’t Compare Your Chapter 1 to Someone Else’s Chapter 20!”

Learn from others and from those who have more experience, but try not to compare yourself to them. At 22, I was a kid who did not know half of what I know now, but at least I knew I would do everything possible to devote myself to translation.

In the meantime, best of wishes for your chapter 1 as a translator and do not worry if you write your chapter 2 later than expected, as long as you write those chapters of your translation career little by little until you reach chapter 20.