The Cost of a Lost Opportunity – Lost in Translation

How to tell if you are getting good value in translation?

An airport was negotiating with a new airline that would deliver big opportunities to its local population through tourism, trade and exchanges, and the flow on to gross state product. Typically negotiations like this take years and many trips, research, pitches, and offers. The investment is significant and there is a lot of competition for airlines between airports – domestically and globally.

The deal failed at the last hurdle when the airport thought it was in the bag and instead of engaging professional interpreters hired a student. Lost the deal! No doubt another airport was the beneficiary from each ensuing plane load.

Chin Communications has encountered all too many stories like this over our three decades of work. We’ve had to ‘fix up’ many near disasters too. Wrong character set or font choice for China; serious errors in titles and hierarchies; misunderstanding the Australian system of government impacting entire presentations; logic errors; mistranslations and terrible layouts. Even a beautiful translation with a crappy layout looks like rubbish no one will bother reading – a waste of money!

So how can you be sure you are getting value – what you are paying for? Translation is not a commodity. How can you tell a good one from a dud? Some of our clients are lucky to have internal staff who can review work (with guidelines) but be aware, you are assuming that they have the skill set and experience to judge. A client recently was heard to say, “Oh, my Chinese is not very good, but I can tell the work isn’t good.” Or perhaps forgetting that the end reader was, say, a mainland Chinese, whereas they were commenting from a Hong Kong perspective – different vocabulary, expression, and even a different writing system.

So back to our question: how to choose a good translator and get good value.  It is recommended to choose a good business with a system and team approach. Typically translation through ‘translation agencies’ is done by freelancers and they might be good or bad and not around when you need a change; also translation agencies usually don’t check the work and almost always go for the cheap end – it’s hit and miss; here today gone tomorrow. In the translation business, you definitely get what you pay for.

So choosing a business with a quality system and translators who can deliver what you need, on time, and tailored to your audience is vital. You can ask questions about the process, the qualifications and experience of the translators, add on the ability to layout the work, know they are around next time for updates, even get advice on the imagery, or content to make sure it hits the mark. For some clients the capacity to also hire interpreters who understand your offering, or get marketing support or advice to help you achieve your end goals can be an entire package of support services to expedite your business aims.

The Vice Chancellor of a University was meeting counterparts at a high level engagement. Due to poor translation the VC was presented as the Deputy (yes it’s not only ‘translators’ who don’t understand university structure). Throughout the meeting, the Vice Chancellor was sidelined. Later on the person responsible for this embarrassment was moved on.

Save yourself from these fatal mistakes, contact the Chin Team for free translation advice and consultation.


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Level 4, 221 Queen Street, Melbourne 3000
GPO Box 2231, Melbourne 3001

P. 1300 792 446
F. 03 9670 0766

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