The worst advice we’ve ever heard about translation services

Free advice is more often than not worth exactly what you paid for it: nothing. This does not mean that all free advice is bad, we like to think our blog offers plenty of legitimate translation advice, but it does mean once in a while we hear tips that make us do a double take. Here are some of the worst tips we have ever heard about translating.

Advice: You do not need a professional translating service, just use Google Translate or a computer system (machine translation).

Why this is terrible advice: The difference between a professional translation done by a real person who actually knows both languages and between a software system designed by a group of engineers is huge. Computers simply do not pick up the little human complexities of language and nuances that professional translators do, and this causes some spectacularly horrendous results for corporations that think a computer will suffice. Take a global ethics report from a large corporation. It is vital that the nuances of that language are translated over to English correctly in order to avoid misinterpretation and potentially serious legal issues. For large corporations this means either avoiding potentially costly lawsuits by using the correct professional translation services or walking straight into them with a computer translator.


Years ago, while working in a large Midwest city, we received an invitation by regular mail to attend a “Hispanic” event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The invitation was in Spanish, or at least a mere semblance of Spanish since it had been translated by Google translate. We called several colleagues in the Hispanic industry who also received the invitation and who were also very surprised by the terrible Spanish used in it. After contacting the Chamber, we learned that the director had trusted her new assistant to translate the invitation after he had told her that he was bilingual. He might have known a little bit of Spanish, but thought he could convince his colleagues he knew more by using the online translation tool. It backfired on him and the Chamber. It was an embarrassing lesson for them.

Advice: All translation companies are the same, just pick the cheapest.

Why this is terrible advice: When a business truly looks into the issue it is very clear that all translation companies are not the same. Using an experienced professional service with a proven track record that is dedicated to providing translation services as their primary focus is essential to getting a quality product. The difference will be noticed throughout the international corporation, from the quality of new recruits improving by having higher quality eLearning materials that are correctly translated, to a smoothly-run HR department, that can read fluent ethic reports translated into fluent English instead of broken English, the difference is substantial. It is worth any corporation’s time to ensure they use a high quality translation service and to make sure they switch to a better company if they are not satisfied with their current vendor. To be a truly international corporation, a business has to have international fluency between its different geographical locations and professional, high-quality, and error-free translation services are the best way to ensure this smoothness.

Companies that take this advice to heart and make sure they partner with a dedicated translation service, like eLanguages, Inc.(, will be significantly happier in the long run.

10 Myths About Corporate Translations

The field of corporate translation has become increasingly important for large corporations across the world as successful and profitable business has become synonymous with international business.

However, there is still an abundance of misconceptions and inaccuracies surrounding corporate translations. Here are our top ten myths of corporate translation:

1. Machine translation services are useless and have no value for large United States corporations.

Truth: Appropriate use of machine translation can act as a helpful aid to people translating. It can help fix simple errors in professional translator’s writings if used well.


2. Machine translations are just as good as human translators and are a better value.

Truth: Important corporate and business information needs the human elements of nuance and contextual reference to be fully translated. Relying on a machine is a foolish move that can lead to big trouble in certain topics such as ethics violations with foreign workers.


3. All translating services are the same, give or take.

Truth: Make sure the company you use has the necessary expertise, reputation, and qualifications to successfully represent your business through corporate translation.


4. There are no guarantees that you can get consistently accurate translations online.

Truth: The right company can distinguish themselves with effective quality control methods to ensure the best corporate translation results every time.


5. Interpreting and translating are interchangeable words.

Truth: Interpreting refers to oral corporate translation, typically seen in meetings, conferences, and court depositions for example. Translating is a written document being transcribed into another language.


6. There is only one type of interpreter available.

Truth: An important distinction in interpretation is between consecutive interpreters (translator speaks during the pauses) and a simultaneous interpreter (translator speaks at same time as native language speaker).


7. It is difficult to find out how accurate the corporate translation I received is.

Truth: It is very easy to request a Certificate of Authentic Translation with us, ensuring you got the product you need.


8. Our beefy employee handbook will surely take months to be translated.

Truth: Full translations of a 50-page document can be expedited to be done in under 10 business days and the normal completion time is around 10-15 business days for a 50-page corporate translation.


9. It is not necessary to have a translating service for our US-based business.

Truth: The US has the fifth highest Spanish speaking population in the world.


10. Corporate translation for non-Spanish and non-Chinese clients are impossible to find.

Truth: eLanguages offers over 30 different languages ranging from Czech to Polish!

German Cultural Differences

When visiting a foreign country, it’s important to know what cultural differences to be prepared for. While Germany has many similarities to America, there are some interesting cultural differences. Here are some common cultural differences to help prevent any misunderstandings.

Dining Out
•Many basic and surprising cultural differences occur at restaurants and pubs. Water isn’t automatically brought to the table; you’ll need to order it. Also, water comes either with or without “gas” (sparkling), tap water isn’t normally drank or served, and none of it comes with ice.

•If a restaurant or pub is busy, it’s common, and socially expected, for people to share their table with strangers.

•Germans almost never eat with their hands, only appetizers and BBQ is a safe rule. Even pizza is eaten with a fork and knife.

•It’s not common to say grace before eating, but it’s very common to say “Guten Appetit!”

Meeting People
•Many cultural differences also occur in communication and it’s important to know them to avoid offending anyone. In general, Germans are more formal than Americans. They expect to be addressed as “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Miss”, even by people they are in contact with every day (including co-workers). In addition, Germans expect to be addressed as “Dr.” if they have any doctoral degree.

•If you are going to attempt to speak German, make sure to double check the form of “you” you use. Sie is the formal version while the informal du could be insulting.

•Instead of saying “Cheers!” when toasting, say “Prost!” or “Zum Wohl”.

•While Americans easily call someone a friend, Germans reserve “Freund” for long close relationships. One of the biggest cultural differences that can cause problems is that Americans are insulted by what they consider standoff-ishness or Germans are made uncomfortable by Americans who are too close too fast.

Out and About
•Plan ahead, most businesses are closed on Sundays. Germans use Sunday to stay with family, but few Germans attend church.

•Keep change handy, you’ll need to pay to use almost all public restrooms.

•Cultural differences also occur at businesses. Most have separate offices, as opposed to the “open air” American offices. Also, most Germans keep their doors closed and expect people to knock.

These are just a few of the cultural differences. However, in general the German culture is reasonable and nice, if you’re not sure of something go ahead and ask!

Latin American Cultural Differences

Though many outsiders of Latin American countries perceive many of them to be basically the same, they are, in fact, quite different from not only the U.S., but also from their neighboring countries. With over two dozen different countries, it should be expected that language, appearance, celebrations, and architecture, can and is different.

Cuba • On a decidedly different note, the Cuban government is still not recognized by the United States and all business and law specifically prohibits private commerce with the island by Americans. Culturally, it takes a lot to roil a Cuban but once done, reconciliation is just as difficult.

Argentina • The South American continent is home to Argentina, the most Spanish inspired culture. Argentineans make over 70% less money than Americans, but in turn, spend over 80% less on health care. Honor and respect can be expected in day-to-day life in the home, community, and business, and include making eye contact, greeting with a handshake from eldest to youngest, and when leaving, saying good-bye to each person individually.

Brazil • Unlike Americans who live to work, Brazilians work to live, putting their family, outside work life, and vacations first. Americans often don’t use all of their paid time off, whereas Brazilians appreciate and use all of their vacation time. The “time is money” concept does not apply in their laid back mind set and lunches can often run 2-3 long… something American’s surely wish for!

Venezuela • Similar to Brazilians, Venezuelans are generally unpunctual because in general, they do not really stress over time, unlike Americans who generally go by the “if you’re not early, you’re late” motto. In America, time represents something to be used wisely, whereas in Venezuela, it is meant to be enjoyed and not something to worry over.

Chile • Appearance is not taken as seriously in Chile like it is in America. Generally, expensive hand bags, accessories, and clothing are not widely sought after, clothing is fairly cheap, and fashion trends are not a concern. Greeting with a kiss is common, Christianity is widely practiced, and because of this, homosexuality is not accepted and divorce is looked down upon.

Crowd Sourcing translation is a bad idea for Pinterest

Pinterest, the latest addition to social media, is asking their viewers to translate their website and content by using a popular new online tool called “crowd sourcing” that gets people who visit the site to help translate it. But just like I did not recommend “machine” translations for your important documents which should include your website, I don’t recommend “crowd” sourcing the translation of your website either. Here’s why:

Poor Quality: again, asking a bilingual person to translate your website is like asking a Spanish (or in the case of my prior post, Russian) person to teach Spanish History just because this person speaks Spanish and lives in Spain, you can’t. It takes years of preparation to be able to teach Spanish history well and fully.

Lack of Consistency: crowd souring means many different people will be contributing to the translation of your website, and like with anything else, each person has his or her own style as well as their own choice of words when translating a word or phrase that has different options. The end result will be an inconsistent translation that will end up confusing the visitors to the translated site.

Lack of Control: crowd sourcing won’t let you have control of the message you want your website to create. Even though Pinterest’s content is user-generated, each user will lose control of his message, it will very likely be lost in translation.

Maybe Pinterest should consider using professional translators for the website itself and crowd sourcing for daily postings by users.

Asian Cultural Differences

As any student of languages can tell you, there are a variety of ways that the cultures of the Far East and the West differ. These differences manifest themselves in various ways including how one greets another person, how business is conducted and how much physical contact is allowed. While the nuances of every Asian culture would take an entire book to explain, here are some of the basics for seven of the most popular Asian destinations:

China – Social relationships are highly formalized and involve a very ritualized sense of reciprocal obligation. For the unwary, gift-giving can be quite confusing so obtain the services of a local before presenting anyone with a gift. Direct confrontation is also considered poor etiquette and negotiations will usually last far longer than a Westerner expects.

Taiwan – Although rooted in Chinese culture, Taiwan is far more westernized. Still, there are some distinct cultural differences from the West. In particular, handshakes are rare except among friends. Instead a slight nod of the head when introduced by a third party – yes, that’s the etiquette – is all that is required. Finger pointing is a no-no as is touching anyone’s head. Lastly, be restrained in your actions and you will offend no one – loud and boisterous behavior is considered uncommonly rude.

Japan – The simple act of handing or receiving a business card in the Land of the Rising Sun is fraught with the possibility of insult. If handed a card, you must study it for at least two minutes and remark upon its qualities or you will be guilty of rudeness. On the other hand, once the business day – usually a very long one – is concluded, you will be expected to be entertained by your hosts for many more hours of drinking and singing.

Thailand – Bhumibol Adulyadej, king of Thailand, is very respected. Concerning this subject, it is probably best to bypass this topic so a harmless statement is not mistakenly taken out of context. The people of Thailand are otherwise generally friendly, outgoing people. It is custom to enter a home only after removing your shoes, to return a friendly gesture, such as smiling, and also never to touch someone’s head.

Philippines – While Filipinos can be fairly obtuse when speaking, they are much more physically oriented in person – at least for members of the same sex. Do not be alarmed if a Filipino man whom you have just met puts his arm around you and guides you to your seat. Also, refrain from pointing at a person as it is considered rude. Filipinos are far more cognizant of eye contact and a simple nod will get their attention.

South Korea- Like many Asian cultures, bowing is a common way to show respect. Being introduced to a group of people, meeting someone for the first time, and leaving a room or gathering should all be accompanied with a bow. It is also important to remember that in South Korea, eye contact is seen as a threat and/or challenge and should be avoided.

Indonesia – Propriety is considered sacred in the Muslim country. Always be on time, never use your left hand to receive a gift or touch another person and always greet people with the word “Selamat.” The country is also quite crowded so physical contact is to be expected and one’s personal space will be far smaller and may make the unprepared Westerner uncomfortable.

Funniest Translations: Coca-Cola

It’s probably safe to say that most of us are familiar with the ever popular Coca-Cola Company. Beginning in 1886 when a pharmacist, Dr. John S. Pemberton, created the flavored syrup. Dr. Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson then created the name “Coca-Cola” along with designing the trademark and script font that is still used today.

Coco-Cola quickly gained popularity and in time, was being served all around the world. With being served in foreign countries, different translations of “Coca-Cola” were being used. It was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la meaning “bite the wax tadpole” or”female horse stuffed with wax”. Unfortunately for Coca-Cola, this was not discovered until after thousands of signs were made. Coke then researched over 40,000 Chinese characters finding a close equivalent, ko-kou-ko-le, which is loosely translated into “happiness in the mouth”.

Coke needed to avoid using as many as 200 symbols used for “ko-ka-ko-la” due to their meanings, including all of the characters pronounced as “la”! Coca-Cola came to a compromise by using the character for lé, meaning joy. The translation of the name “Coca-Cola” finally settled on these characters:


This is translated into “to allow the mouth to be able to rejoice”- no wax tadpoles or female horses- and was officially registered as Coca-Cola’s Chinese trademark in 1928.

How to Be A Problem Solver with Multilingual Employees

Working in an environment of multilingual employees presents unique challenges that can be difficult to anticipate. Problem solving can be one of the most difficult aspects, but also the most rewarding. Being able to help overcome issues that stem from different cultures and languages at work is something that all employees need to learn, but it is particularly important for managers.

When confronted with a problem at work, regardless of what that problem is, the employee or manager should take the time to fully understand what the problem is before trying to resolve it. Even when employees all speak a common language, their understanding of a second or third language will be influenced by their culture. For example, an employee may come from a culture where people are very direct. To some this approach may seem to be critical or offensive. The best approach to take when there are multilingual employees is not to be easily offended. Strive to see the problem from multiple angles, and it will be easier to understand how an employee or manager arrived at a certain point of view.

When working with multilingual employees, think of several different ways to provide instructions. Take the time to make sure that everyone is on the same page, and projects will go faster and more smoothly.

It is easy to think that because multilingual employees can generally speak one language that they can understand any information presented to them. One of the biggest problems facing multilingual employees is that native speakers of the language often forget the limitations of having to constantly think in a second language at work. At the end of a presentation or meeting, take the time to address questions and concerns. Allowing employees the opportunity to get clarification will help avoid problems.

What is the Perfect Formula for ELearning?

“What is the Perfect Formula for an eLearning program that targets employees who speak different languages?”

These days, most companies no longer deal with localized employees, many work remotely in different parts of the world. The internet has made it possible for even the smallest company to handle customers and employees all over the world. Having an international client base means that employees need to be able to communicate with clients who might not speak the same language. eLearning has proven to be a very effective way to help employees develop the necessary language skills.

This form of eLearning is a relatively new concept in the business world and everyone is still in the process of trying to figure out what the most successful formula is.

Developers and business owners continue to explore the world of eLearning. In the decade or so that eLearning has been used to help with international business and a diverse employee base, there are some things that seem to lead to higher completion rates.

Using a program that leads to HR certification is a very good idea. Knowing that they’ll have another certification that they can use to help them get promotions and bigger paychecks motivates participating employees to devote more time and effort to the program, increasing the odds of them completing it.

While it’s true that programs that rely on taped tutorials cost less, it’s the programs that have been set up so participants get face to face time and even individual counseling from the instructor in their own language that have a higher success rate.

Employers need to look for programs that don’t have a ones size fits all mentality. Different people respond differently to different teaching styles. eLearning programs that can be adapted to accommodate each student’s individual needs and native language should be sought out.

There are many eLearning programs currently being marketed to the corporate world. It’s in each business owner’s best interest to choose the one that has a history of high completion rates and one that has options in many languages. If you already have an effective eLearning program in English and would like to translate it into different languages, look no further. eLanguages, Inc. is an established and experienced language translation service ready to help you.

The top 5 worst translation mistakes in history

As the old cliché says, the meaning of words is often lost in translation. Being able to speak multiple languages does not make one into a translator. This is shown to be true throughout history. Below, we take a look at some of the biggest interpretation and translation mistakes that have ever been made.


Perhaps the most famous and most recent instance of an interpretation mistake was Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie, made up sign language motions to interpret the words spoken by various speakers at the memorial service. Jantjie had experience as a signer in the past but intentionally sabotaged the sign interpretation during Mandela’s services for reasons that are unknown. Jantjie has since been committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment of his schizophrenia.


During the Cold War, the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, gave a famous speech in which his words were interpreted to say, “We will bury you.” The United States took this as a threat of nuclear war. They later found out that Khrushchev meant something totally different. The interpretation of his words was completely wrong. Khruschcev’s words should have been interpreted to say something along the lines of, “We will outlast you.”


In 2009, HSBC bank was forced to spend $10 million on a re-branding campaign to get a hold of its public reputation after its slogan of “Assume Nothing” was translated as “Do Nothing” to a wide variety of countries.


President Jimmy Carter took a diplomatic trip to Poland in 1977. His interpreter was a Russian who allegedly understood Polish. This interpreter failed to properly interpret President Carter’s sentiments and said some of his phrases in Polish that made him look terrible. For example, he interpreted Carter’s sentence of, “When I left the United States,” to “When I abandoned the United States.”


The famous case of Willie Ramirez shows the importance of an accurate interpretation. In 1980, Ramirez was brought to a Florida hospital as he was suffering from food poisoning. When his Latino friends brought him to the hospital, their Spanish word of “intoxicado” was interpreted as intoxicated instead of poisoned. The doctors treated him as if he had overdosed on drugs. Ramirez was rendered quadriplegic as a result of the doctors’ improper treatment and he won a malpractice lawsuit that resulted in a $71 million award.

Difference between interpreting and translating: interpreting is the “oral” form of translation, when someone interprets for a person in court for instance, whereas translating is the written form, i.e. translation of a book.