Monday, 2 September 2013

Translator-Speak. How Odd Language Affects Sales

There is currently a boom in translation - despite all the moaning you hear from translators. (They're moaning because there's too many of them and most of them haven't got access to people commissioning.) In fact, there are hundreds of websites being opened up for translation every day. Especially Germany and Eastern Europe are targeted by British and American companies eager to penetrate more affluent markets.

But when you look at those websites, (and I will be concentrating on German translations, not being fluent in any Eastern European language) it is hard to know whether to laugh or despair. Actual grammatical errors aren't they main problem, but they are there. Do these companies really have nobody who can proofread a website? for example  advertises "Kleider unter Knie", and God know what they mean - unter, über? Whatevs. But grammar it's not. And if the customer doesn't know what they mean - will they buy?

More importantly though, these translated websites seem to create a language of their own. It's somehow just about comprehensible - especially of course if you know the original language from which it is translated word by word.  But it certainly isn't proper German either. It's not how people speak, or how people write. It's a hybrid, a non-existant language. Something that only exists in the mind of an overworked translator, slaving away long past midnight over words (s)he's never heard of, has to look up in "Linguee" or one of those handy but treacherous online sites, and then has to link up in a catchy sentence somehow. And mostly it just doesn't work. Look at,, , (particularly awful!) etc. etc, - and that's just sticking with the fashion brands. A true horror of never heard-of German which pretends to be right up there as marketing and fashion speak.

I would like to be able to quantify how much money gets lost every day by those retailers who are trying so hard to unlock new markets. People have to be persuaded, they need to be reassured that the brand they're buying speaks their language, is there for them. These oddball translator-speak websites will fail badly - and the retailer won't even know what it is due to!

A very sad state of affairs, but as long as companies place their trust in incompetent translators without effecting checks and double-checks, it won't change.

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