Five reasons customers should let companies know when their translations are bad


Five reasons customers should let companies know when their translations are badIt has happened to all of us. You buy a new appliance, you open the instruction manual in the language of your choice, and you can’t even figure out how to turn on the machine. Why does this happen? And why does this happen with products sold by prestigious multinational companies? Unfortunately, when it comes to language, many companies don’t care what’s right and what’s wrong. They think that offering a bad translation is better than offering no translation at all. After all, the customer has already bought the product. They don’t realize how poorly translated materials reflect on their corporate name. The way we speak, and the way we write for that matter, can benefit or damage our image. When we read a text full of mistakes, we might very well assume that the person’s or company’s sloppiness in writing is a reflection of their attitude towards all aspects of their work, no matter how reputable the company is or how good their product reviews are. Translation mistakes affect the way we look at companies. But these mistakes are not only damaging to a company’s image; they can also be, to a greater or lesser extent, damaging to the customer. Here are five reasons why you, as the customer, should complain about badly translated documentation (feel free to add your own after this article):

ONE: You’re paying for it
The cost of writing and translating documents is included in the price companies charge for their products. And if it isn’t, they’re not doing their job properly. So if you’re paying for it, you might as well demand that companies provide you with coherent documents devoid of serious mistakes. If they don’t want to translate, fine. But they shouldn’t give us instructions that can only be understood by referring to the original text.

TWO: The warranty may no longer be valid if the product gets damaged
If you get into a legal battle, you might win in the end, but who has the energy to go to court over a blender? Unless what you bought was expensive and you have the time, energy and money to face a team of lawyers, taking the company to court is probably not worth it. Some companies include fine print in their instruction manuals stating that, if there’s a conflict between the original and the translation, the original version will prevail. That means that if the product catches fire because you misunderstood the instructions, too bad for you. The company will not reimburse you. You should have been bilingual.

THREE: Misunderstanding can have dangerous consequences
An article in the Journal of Specialized Translation mentions a case from 1996 that involved a bread-making machine that produced toxic fumes. Due to a bad translation, users were led to believe that it was normal for the machine to emit smoke during operation, so they let the machine go on producing smoke. Affected users were compensated, and luckily there were no serious consequences, but consumers were certainly put in harm’s way. What if there had been an infant or a person with a respiratory condition in the room?

FOUR: As a customer, you deserve respect
If a company chooses not to show respect towards its own corporate image, that’s their problem, but they should certainly show respect towards their customers. Providing bad translations not only shows that the company doesn’t care about its own reputation, but also that it couldn’t care less about you, the customer. It’s disrespectful and, as customers, we should speak up.

FIVE: Language matters
If you aren’t in a language-related profession, you probably use language as a tool to communicate and get things done. Some non-linguists care a lot about language. Others don’t consider language as important. Whatever group you fall into, expressing yourself correctly is essential if you want to be understood. Moreover, a person or company who publishes materials with serious mistakes shows a complete disregard for detail and lack of concern for their readers. Not to mention, it puts their image at risk. No matter how good a company’s reputation is, poor-quality written materials will certainly have a negative impact on its corporate name. It’s like wearing a new outfit with old, dirty shoes… Everything is fine until you look down.

So next time you buy a product that comes with an unintelligible translation, take five minutes to give the company some grief. You spent your hard-earned money on their product and you have the right to demand clear instructions in your own language.


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