Translation errors severely damage branding image, even big brand giants like Mango

Sloppy translations, or translations that are hastily authorized without being sent through a strict screening process based on lots of research and managed by reliable, language professionals, can destroy a business’ reputation. Even Mango, Spain’s fashion giant, isn’t safe from the dangers of translation errors.

Last week, Mango made worldwide headlines thanks to an incredibly foolish translation error related to the term “esclava” in the promotion of a new line of jewellery in France. “Esclava,” meaning “slave,” is also a common Spanish term used to describe a particular style of bracelet. Problems arose, however, when the term was used in promotional material in France. The phrase is not understood or accepted on any level in France as a fashion reference to bracelets.

Over 4,000 people joined in with a social networking petition, campaigning against Mango and its insensitive, inappropriate use of the term “esclava” when promoting its new line of jewellery in France. The petition went viral via Twitter thanks to a number of French associations, including SOS Racisme & Cran, actresses Sonia Rolland and Aïssa Maïga, and the influential activist, Rokhaya Diallo.

“Esclava,” a perfectly acceptable term referring to a style of bracelet in Spain, created instant and widespread anger amongst members of the general public, so much so that “boycott Mango” soon became a trending topic on the Twitter network. Mango was left with no option but to address the public directly, accept full responsibility for the terrible error in the translation of its marketing campaign and make immediate changes to the way in which its products were being marketed in France.

Mango’s reputation suffered a huge blow within a very short space of time because of a small, but hugely important error in translation. Contextual knowledge, cultural understanding and professional language skills are essential for all kinds of translations, large or small. Multinational companies are at risk just as much as smaller businesses are. Foolish mistakes are made all the time. These mistakes can be costly and can irreversibly damage the reputation of any company on a large scale. This is particularly true now more than ever, thanks to the power of the Internet.

Screenshot of Mango site selling the controversial bracelet

Make sure your translations are executed well and that your team of translators are experts in what they do. Investing more time and money in your translations is always worth the extra expense in the long run.

Translating your website to promote your business

A business website is more than just a mode of offering information about your business, and it’s more than just marketing a product or service. Your website also communicates authority, or legitimacy, if you will. The internet is full of websites representing fly-by-night companies. Making sure that your site doesn’t seem like one of those is essential to ensuring that it truly fulfills its purpose and potential to help your business grow.

These days, not only are businesses increasingly going international, but customers are too. Today’s customers no longer require that their service provider or the manufacturer of a product be right down the road, or even in their own country. This offers a plethora of new opportunities for businesses. But reaching those audiences often means communicating with them in their own language, on their own terms.

As a result, website translation is no longer the sole territory of large, multi-national conglomerates. It’s relevant to any business that wishes to grow by capturing that global potential. Yet many companies go about translating their website in a way that is ultimately counter-productive.

That is, they run their content through a translation tool like Google Translator, and call it done. Or, what more and more companies are starting to discover, they go to a freelance site like oDesk or Elance and offer bargain basement rates for anyone who claims to know a language, to translate their site. To be sure, freelance marketplaces are full of qualified workers, including translators. But using them as a cheaper, easier alternative to going with a professional agency has definite drawbacks.

First, localization is an important aspect of translation that software tools often miss, as well as less-than-professional translators. Marketing history is full of incidents in which one mistranslated word of an ad campaign left an entire country either laughing or horrified at what was inadvertently communicated. This hurts credibility and causes people to miss the real message you’re trying to send about your business. But there’s also the issue of really connecting with the audience that you’re trying to reach. Translation is more than linguistic adaptation, it also communicates to your audience that they are valued customers. So sending the right message, with the right understanding of the target language’s terminology, etc. is essential.

Finally, translating your website and reaching out to a larger, global audience means setting your company up for the long term. When economic conditions or other factors temper your domestic market’s interest, you’ll have another area to focus resources and build your brand. Naturally, getting the right message across in other countries is equally important as here at home.

Dos and Don’ts of Translation Project Management

For freelance translators, project management can end up being one of the more time-consuming roles that they fill. It is a multi-faceted set of responsibilities, and mastering it is essential to making sure everything runs like a well-oiled machine. It covers everything from managing time schedules and deadlines, to setting rates and communicating expectations. It means covering your bases up front to avoid potential miscommunications later on, but also being prepared to deal with situations that don’t go according to plan.

  • Always plan. Planning involves several aspects, including working within deadlines. As a project manager, you are responsible for assigning projects and making sure that deadlines are realistic given the availability of the translators and proofreaders that you work with.
  • Get to know your workers. Understanding the abilities and shortcomings of the people that work under you can help avoid surprises along the way. If you know, for example, that a particular translator takes longer to do a particular type of job, first make sure that the agreed deadline takes that into account, or that you have someone else on hand to do it. And this leads us to the next point.
  • Avoid putting people in the wrong roles. For example, don’t assign a medical translation to someone who specializes in legal translations. Not only would it likely take longer to get the job done, but the end product may not be up to standards.
  • Form the right teams. This is an extension of knowing the people that you work with, but we’ll expand on it here because managing people is always one of the most difficult, and important things that a manager must do. If you know that certain translator doesn’t get along with a proofreader, don’t put them to work together. Get to know their skills as well as their personalities to make the most effective team combinations.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Very few translators are experts in every field, even project managers. At some point or another, everyone could use a little help or advice. And even the best project manager can meet their downfall by failing to ask for help when it’s needed. Instead of taking that risk, seek collaboration among the people that you work with. Not only is the communication good for everyone on the team, but it also reminds them — and you — that you hired them for a reason.
  • And the final point is that if you ever see a battle brewing between the members of your team, don’t take sides. Neutrality is an important quality in a manager and once lost, you may never get it back. On the other hand, don’t avoid problems or try to ignore them. Dealing with issues head-on, in a neutral, problem-solving way, can keep them from cropping up again in the future.

If you’re currently working under a project manager, or if you are one yourself, consider the effectiveness of those efforts in relation to the points listed above. A small change could make a big difference.

Understanding the Hispanic Labour Force

As the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S., Hispanics constitute a significant and growing percentage of the workforce. Many of these workers are involved in the construction and landscaping industries, though they are present in just about every industry and region of the U.S. As such, it’s important that employers understand the complexity of cultural differences which they present in order to effectively manage their team of workers.

 

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To begin with, Hispanics immigrating to the U.S., even on a seasonal basis, are not a homogenous group. Coming from more than 20 different countries, they present distinct cultural habits and expectations. Some of them are educated and some are not; some speak English while others do not. A worker who comes from a rural area with little formal education and no knowledge of English, for example, may show exceptional creativity and problem-solving abilities. So the Hispanic labour force represents a heterogeneous group that a manager would do best to try to understand in order to effectively navigate.

However, it is natural that language plays a significant role in managing Hispanic workers, due to the primacy of communication. The idea that immigrants coming to the U.S. should learn English is not only limiting for business purposes, it is also limited in perspective in many cases. For example, it is sometimes the case that a Hispanic worker does not know how to read or write in their own language, making it a significant hurdle for them to learn a new language. But even those with formal education, many report that English is simply a very difficult language to learn. Managers who recognize these limitations are better prepared to accommodate them — providing safety manuals in Spanish, for example, or video tutorials with images, or illustrations to clarify company standards.

Accommodating language difficulties, as such, can go a long way in preventing injuries and even fatalities on the job, in addition to familiarizing Hispanic workers with safety precautions that may be nonexistent in their countries of origin.

Language Barrier Linked To Worse Diabetes Control

The ability to receive effective health care and follow recommendations is contingent on open communication between doctor and patient. Barriers to communication not only hurt the doctor’s ability to understand what is ailing their patient, but they prevent patients from understanding treatment options and, often, how to implement them. Indeed, health-related problems are some of the most costly effects — both in terms of costs to society and personal costs — that come from language difficulties.

People involved with the healthcare industry have long been able to identify the problem. But what has been less clear are the scope of the problem and it’s immediate consequences. A recent study has shed some light on these questions, conducted by researchers at UCSF and the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. Their study analyzed the ability of Latinos with limited English skills to adequately manage and control their diabetes. The findings were surprising.

Among Latino patients with limited English abilities, those who saw doctors for their diabetes which did not speak Spanish were twice as likely to have little or no control over their blood sugar levels than those whose doctors spoke Spanish. In addition to highlighting the huge discrepancy in how these patients were able to handle their disease, the study was also able to draw a clear and direct connection between doctor-patient communication and the ability of patients — in this case, diabetes patients — to receive effective health care.

As the largest minority in the U.S., the Latino population has one of the highest rates of diabetes of any ethnic group. In addition, roughly 14 million adults in this group speak English less than “very well”. It should also be noted that as far as ailments go, diabetes is a very complex and relatively difficult-to-manage disease to begin with. Among these patients in particular, access to Spanish-speaking doctors and information translated to Spanish could have a tremendous effect on patient outcomes.

Meaning of “la migra”

Following the last post on US Border Patrols, we’re taking a look at a term widely used in immigration contexts – La Migra. The term is more often heard in states along the border with Mexico than any other region of the U.S., although it can be heard just about anywhere that Spanish slang is used.

Image source: http://www.zazzle.com

A derivative of the Spanish term migración (migration) or related to migraciones – the offices dealing with immigration issues in Spanish-speaking countries – the term has become shorthand for both agencies and individuals that deal with immigrants and immigration. Both the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol agencies can be referred to as La Migra, as well as the personnel who work for them, including immigration officers and agents who perform inspections of cars crossing the border or in search of illegal immigrants in places of business.

While the term is not only used by immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, if you hear La Migra come up in conversation, chances are someone is complaining about an encounter with immigration officials – much the same way a person might complain about having to deal with the law.

U.S. Border Patrol to Refuse Interpretation Assistance Requests from Other Law Enforcement Agents

Image courtesy of: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Towards the end of November 2012, an impactful memo was released to little media attention by the Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, David V. Aguilar. The memo simply stated that Border Patrol agents would no longer respond to requests for language assistance (e.g. Spanish interpretation) from law enforcement officers who are not within the Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Border Patrol agents are required to be bilingual and traditionally have met the interpreting needs of law enforcement agents from other departments.

While the exact cause of this memo remains elusive, it comes shortly after the Northwest Immigrant Rights Projects filed a civil rights complaint arguing that the use of Border Patrol agents as interpreters unfairly limited access to government services for people being questioned who had limited English abilities. Immediately after the policy change was announced, the American Immigration Council hailed the decision, adding that these interpretation services “unconstitutionally targeted individuals for deportation based on the fact that they looked or sounded foreign and eroded trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement agencies.”

The memo further added that law enforcement personnel outside of the Department of Homeland Security would instead be given “a list of available local and national translation services.” As a result, Spanish interpreters working in the private sector would fill agents’ needs moving forward. However, critics of the policy change argue that interdepartmental collaboration would be severely hindered, including evidence-gathering and even officer safety. They add that while it may not affect agents working close to the border with Mexico – where most personnel are already bilingual – it could have serious repercussions for those working farther away from the border.

The change comes at a time when the number of Border Patrol agents is increasing rapidly, along with the federal budget which funds their operations.

When you should turn down a translation project

Translator thinking

It may sound counterintuitive, or even just scary, but there comes a point in every freelancer’s career when they have to – or should – turn down a job. Far from being a bad thing, it is a necessary part of freelancing that will ultimately be better for your career and the clients that you work with. Here are some reasons why:

Not Enough Experience or Not Within Your Expertise

Though a project might sound promising and you might be tempted to gain a new client, you should not take projects that will be very difficult to complete. Consider, for instance, that you are an English to Spanish translator, always translating to your native language Spanish. You receive a Spanish to English project and are tempted to accept it, even though you know that you don´t have the right experience. Or maybe you receive a medical translation when your specialization is law. Once the excitement and sense of calm from getting new work wears off, you’ll be stuck trying to hurry through and complete a translation that takes too long because it is outside of your expertise.

Client Has a Tight Deadline

This might be a client that contacts you suddenly for a rush project, or who claims that every job is “urgent”, or who calls you on Thanksgiving day, or on Sunday afternoon, etc. There are plenty of these clients out there, and they should be avoided (unless you really enjoy being at someone’s beck and call and having no life or freedom, or unless they are willing to pay an extra charge.) You might have the patience to get through one or two jobs with this type of client, but beware when that patience runs out and you’re both stuck with a deteriorating situation.

Money Matters

All clients want to save money, it’s just a part of business. But freelancers should be wary of those who ask for big discounts. It could indicate that the client will not value your work, but it also has a negative impact on your business as a translator. Taking low-priced jobs means that you would need to accept more jobs. And that can make you more stressed about finishing projects quickly, and consequently lead to lower quality in the work that you do. Ultimately, charging a higher rate (not abusive, but a reasonable rate) is better for both the client and the translator.

In addition, projects with payment terms that are far from what is acceptable for you should be avoided. This point is particularly important because when working as a freelancer, you have to make sure that you are creating a cash flow that is sufficient to cover your living expenses. If a project does not include payment terms that would allow you to do that, it is best to pass on the project.

Research the Client for Red Flags

With so many online resources for checking up on a client’s profile or reputation, it just makes sense to do it. A good practice is to always search for a new client on Google and to also look them up on a site like the Better Business Bureau for US and Canada (http://www.bbb.org/). If you are working for a translation agency, a good place to see the agency reputation is http://www.proz.com/blueboard.

While you can’t necessarily believe everything you read online, if you Google a client and several sites with complaints about them come up, it’s a pretty good indication of what you can expect from working with them. The kinds of information you may find online include whether they pay on time, if they are easy to work with, and any specific issues that tend to come up in their business relationships.

Uninformed Clients That Are Not Willing to Learn

Beyond the deadline issue, some clients are just pushy and make unrealistic requests for projects. For instance, they ask 100,000 words translated in a couple of days, and aren’t willing to learn what translation is about (and why that request is not realistic.) A savvy translator will not spend too much energy on these clients. Rather than getting frustrated with uninformed expectations, you can explain politely why the project is unrealistic or tell them that it is not the way you work. If they wish to work with you, they can alter the request.

Follow Your Instinct

A final note is to watch out for clients that just seem too eager to hire you and pay you right away without getting basic information. There are new scams created every day, and experience in picking them out can protect you from falling prey. But even if you don’t have so much experience under your belt in dealing with clients as a freelancer, you can always fall back on your gut instinct. This also goes for projects that are not necessarily “scams” but that just don’t seem right for you, your schedule, or your expertise.

There are many reasons why a project might not be right for you, and it’s in your best interest to know what a “right” project looks like.

 

The Risks of not Providing Safety Information in Workers’ Languages

It is no surprise that Hispanics entering the US with limited or no English abilities often end up working in factories across the country. With a limited capacity for communication in English comes a limited set of options for work. Yet factories can be some of the most dangerous places to work in any country, where the ability to read and understand warnings and cautionary signs can mean the difference between health or injury.

Safety and Spanish Translations

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This issue famously came up in mid-2011 in an incident at Tyson Foods, an international corporation with headquarters in Arkansas. The factory incident revolved around a poisonous gas leak that occurred when a worker failed to read the label on a container, pouring a chemical into it that, when mixed with the residue of the chemical previously held in the container, produced chlorine gas. The Center for Disease Control interviewed the worker after the accident, and reported that he said his primary language was Spanish and that he could not understand the label written in English.

While Tyson Foods contests that the argument of the worker in question—claiming instead that his primary language is English and that he simply failed to take note of the label—the case highlights the importance of warning and safety precautions in factories, and the ability of workers to properly understand them. It doesn’t necessarily make sense for companies that run factories and other sites with Hispanic workers to provide language training to all of their employees—in terms of the time and resource investment. So it would seem that providing translations of things such as container labels, warning and hazard signs, etc. would make the most sense.

Another issue that arose in the Tyson Foods case corresponded to the way employees are trained for these potentially dangerous jobs. While the company claims that hands-on training is already practiced in its factories, cases such as this one emphasize why this form of training in the employees’ native language(s) is preferable to video or reading-based training techniques, in which employees may only understand part of the information provided in English, or none at all.

Branching Out: The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Work

Translators work in a variety of contexts, whether independently as freelancers, with an agency, or as a manager and/or editor within their own agency. The career trajectory that some choose to pursue, after entering the industry under the wing of an agency, is to branch out on their own as a freelancer. Armed with the knowledge and experience they acquired at said agency, these guys are ready to conquer the world. But what happens when things are going too well, and they can’t handle all the work coming in?

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many freelancers worry about building their client list so that they have enough work coming in on a consistent enough basis to pay the bills. But the other side of the coin is managing that work so that you’re not inundated and turning away clients who then look elsewhere. When the risk of turning away business arises, freelance translators may choose to find other freelancers and outsource the excess work. This can obviously be a positive development in their career and can mean growth for their fledgling business. But it can also carry some risks of its own.

The immediate benefit of outsourcing extra work is that a client list can continue to grow and create more consistency of work coming in. Translators may find that they have jobs on a more regular basis, as they can accept work without having to worry about high volume times, since they have a backup translator or two to help out. It can also allow them to be more choosy regarding the types of translations that they do—focusing on particular areas of interest, and doling out the others to the people they hire.

In these cases, specialization can take root not only with the independent translator, but also with the people that he or she hires to help out. However, it is important to remember that a certain amount of time may be required to sufficiently train the freelancers in their particular area. Whenever outsourcing occurs, the person who outsources the work and maintains client relations is ultimately responsible for the quality of submissions.

Indeed, translators who began their careers working for agencies may underestimate the amount of time required to train the freelancers that they outsource to. There may be a learning curve to consider when working with others to achieve consistency in translations, especially with highly technical terminology or in cases where the client has set expectations regarding how they want certain terms translated. This is important particularly if the outsourced work is for regular clients in order to free up more time for newer clients. Any time there is more than one translator working on documents from a particular client, consistency will be an issue that is front and center and that will require some time dedication, at least initially.

In the process of outsourcing extra work, some people will find that they have a talent not only in doing translations but in managing the work of others. And if that is the case, he or she might consider hiring translators who work with other language pairs. Of course it would be important to make sure qualified and reliable proofreaders are on hand to ensure consistency and accuracy with the other language pairs.

Ultimately, the option to outsource extra work can be highly rewarding for freelance translators who have a real talent for what they do. But they should also be aware that doing so makes them accountable to the work of other people, and will most certainly end up being more time-consuming with the addition of new tasks that must be managed.