Thursday, December 18, 2008

TRANSLATIONS: ¡muy importante!

I'll take this moment while I'm stuck in a Spokane, WA hotel to tell you why I know that translations are ¡pero, muy importante!

At Conexión Marketing, we do a lot of work with the Spanish language. In fact, nearly all the creative we're involved with is in Spanish, targeting the U.S. Hispanic market. We do our own original copywriting in Spanish, as well as translation management.

Many times, our clients come to us with a translation they've been provided by a third party. Sometimes these translations work just fine; other times they're just not good or (GASP!) clearly Internet-generated translations. (That's a definite NO-NO!) Sometimes the mistake isn't syntactical, but cultural.

So even just in the past couple of weeks, we've seen our share of big mistakes:
  • Credit card communications copy in which the legal disclaimer had inaccurate translation that would render the Client liable;
  • An interview screener that asked the wrong question in Spanish, based on cultural differences, and caused the "qualified" participants to become "unqualified," creating a last-minute scramble and additional cost to replace them;
  • And our favorite (those who know Spanish will see the humor in this one): a client who provided the translation for "fro" (as in "afro") as "vaivén." This term can refer to something that waves do in the ocean, for example. ?? We couldn't figure out this one until we did some research. The dictionary showed one definition of "vaivén" as "to and fro." Even non-Spanish speakers will see how very wrong this is, because the "translator" took the term "fro" completely out of context. It made absolutely no sense!

To top it off, the above examples are from brands you all know!

Of course, we scrutinize all copy, whether we've managed the translation job ourselves, or are provided with a translation the client would like us to work from. It's always included in our service.

We've found that it ends up costing the client less money, and certainly less time and trouble, to get a correct and culturally relevant translation in the first place.

Think about it: If you wanted some copy written for your website, would you just turn to the first person who happens to speak English to write that copy for you? Well, this is what we've seen over years and years in the business! Our clients suggest that they have someone on staff (not a writer, not a creative) who "speaks Spanish." Sometimes that person isn't even a native Speaker! Sometimes they have not formally studied the language, so while their conversational abilities are just fine, they are not qualified to write your copy.

That neighbor who's from south of the border, or that staff person who is a native speaker, may give you a really "good deal," but you must think of your translations as an investment. You don't want a "good deal," you want it done right.

The language you employ--be it in your advertising, on your website, on your voice greetings--reflects your very brand. Make sure it speaks to your audience the right way in every language you take on.


  1. Poor translations are in fact a serious problem. Many companies take the path of least resistance and don't fully engage an expert like your company. Sometimes its cost or need to get it done quickly or "this is the way we've always done it" or just not having a appreciation that the Spanish language is structured a little different.

    We've discussed this topic from a complementary perspective on our blog. Come visit

  2. Thanks so much for your input, Marketing 4 Excellence! I think many of us in our profession find this to be a common mistake, so I so appreciate your chiming in! your blog! The post on the flags, wow! It took me back to my college years, when I spent a semester in Sevilla, Spain. I visited Toledo (love, love, LOVE Toledo) and there I bought a bunch of souvenirs for friends and family. What I didn't know was that all these keychains I was buying with the Spanish flag were depicting FRANCO'S flag and not the current flag of democracy! yikes, big mistake.

    I also know in my past experience at a telecom company that if you use an outdated flag or "forget" a flag (that is, show many but not all Latin American flags), you WILL hear from consumers! I like your idea of simply including flag colors in the design versus depicting the flags themselves. Saves a lot of potential hassle!

    Thanks again, and please join us here anytime!

  3. A good translation for company materials is an expense whose value is often hidden...until it becomes a problem. Consider it a proactive part of the business - especially when working with a language that is so heavily regionalized - and the value will become far more evident. Bear in mind that I'm not stating this as a person with a lot of background in marketing; this comes from personal experience.

    My company has a number of retail locations in Puerto Rico. Recently the phone system at one of those stores was upgraded, and new translations for the "Spanish Side" of the IVR were downloaded. Our PR locations have both English and Spanish in the phone greetings, and will route based on the language the caller chooses. Yesterday I got a call from the store's Hearing Aid Center, indicating that the translation for directing callers to them was "harsh." Rather than using "Departmento de Centro Audativo," the description was more along the lines of "Place for Deaf People." This issue is being corrected, but it makes me wonder how many other translations like this exist - not only at my company but also in American business throughout the country.

    Definitely worth pondering.

  4. Kurt, awesome post - thanks for taking the time to add this valuable message.

    I wonder if the word your company was using was "sordos," which in some places may be tolerable. But it's all about how *your* audience perceives it, or how it makes them feel. So it's important to know your audience before signing of on any messaging--whether in English, Spanish or Swahili!

    Thanks again!


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