This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)
So you want your marketing leaflet translating into English? But which version of English did you have in mind?
There are more than ten different ‘varieties’ of the English language and it’s not just a matter of spelling ‘colour’ with or without a ‘u’. Some terms means entirely different things.
Does ‘Let’s table this motion’ mean add it to the agenda or park it for now?
Is a showstopper something that turns heads or something that stops everything working?
What’s a trolley to a Canadian? When they talk about a buggy is it a golf buggy, a pushchair or something else?
It is unwise to suggest an English lady should ‘sit on her fanny’. An American would have no problem with this, but English ladies would be offended at best, outraged at worst.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If you are translating legal documents or information that is critical to your business, it’s essential that you get the correct interpretation. The last thing you need is something that makes no sense to the reader in their language, but even when it does make sense, does it make the RIGHT sense?
You wouldn’t be happy with the English version of these Japanese guides for visiting drivers:
If road mope obstacle your path, refrain from pass on hill or round curve. Follow patiently till road arrive at straight stretch. Then tootle hon melodiously and stop on, passing at left and waving hand courteously to honourable road mope in passing
Beware of greasy corner where lurk skid demon. Cease step on approach slowly, round cautiously, resume step on gradually
They need a bit of creativity to understand the message and what is a ‘mope’? They’re really bad translations.
It’s all about the impression it creates. We may laugh at strange translations, but it doesn’t inspire the reader with trust in our organisation’s attention to detail. And who would expect to get good results from this book?
Correctly English in 100 days
Signs and symbols
Then there are a whole host of gestures that we make that help to get our message across. Some gestures can be really positive in some cultures and positively offensive in others.
The Figa sign is a good example. It consists of a loose fist with the thumb showing between the index and middle fingers. This can mean good luck in some countries (Portugal, Brazil), but is considered to be obscene in others (France, Greece, Russia, Turkey).
Then there is the issue of gifts. Some cultures have different expectations of gifts. In some Indian cultures when there is a marriage, it’s common for the family to give gifts, not only to all their guests, but also to their business contacts. In other cultures presenting a business contact with a generous gift can be seen as a bribe.
Then there’s the choice of gift. Never give a clock or watch to a Chinese person – it says ‘your time is up’!