Worst Translation Blunders in Business

We are all guilty of doubling up with laughter at mistranslated content; some are just downright hilarious. But as some businesses have the misfortune to find out, mistranslations don’t just cause them to lose face and customers, they can also prove to be deadly – literally.

As you are about to find out, the importance of doing your homework and accurately localizing and translating your content is priceless.

  1. In 2004, a medical team from a hospital in Epinal, France, decided they would bypass hiring a professional translation service by translating software that verified the correct dose for prostate cancer treatment on their own.Consequently a number of patients received massive overdoses of radiation and sadly four died.
  1. Parker pens ad, “it won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” was mistranslated for its Spanish-speaking Mexican customers into “it won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” Instead of using the correct translation for the word embarrass they chose “embarazar” which means to make pregnant. No doubt Parker pens were the ones left embarrassed!
  1. When American Airlines decided to lure potential Mexican first class passengers by promoting their campaign “Fly in leather,” they didn’t realise that the translation read “vuela en cuero” which in Spanish means “fly naked.”
  1. Swedish household appliances giant, Electrolux, found itself in a pickle when it promoted its vacuum cleaner to the US market. They assured American customers that “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
  1. Ladies, fancy some manure on your hair? We didn’t think so, and neither did Germans when Clairol launched their Mist Stick curling iron. The company failed to realise that “Mist” in German means manure.
  1. People in China must have thought Pepsi had branched out into paranormal activities when its slogan promised to “bring your ancestors back from the grave.” Needless to say, Pepsi was attempting to translate “Come alive with the Pepsi generation.”
  1. Coors beer slogan, “Turn it loose” went terribly wrong when they translated into Spanish: “Suffer from diarrhoea.”
  1. We all know Ikea has strange names for its furniture, but it went a step too far when it tried to sell its “Fartfull” children’s mobile workbench in the US. It may mean “speedy” in Swedish, but it didn’t sit too well on American parents and the company had to make a speedy removal of the item from their collection.
  1. To promote the Pope’s visit to Spanish speakers, a t-shirt maker in Miami printed t-shirts with “I saw the Potato” (la Papa) instead of “I saw the Pope” (el Papa).
  1. The American Dairy Association’s hugely popular “Got Milk” campaign didn’t cause a buzz in Mexico. No wonder, when translated into Spanish it meant, “Are you lactating?”

Hear the Hands: Gloves Translate Sign Language into Speech

“Eloquence is the power to translate a truth into language perfectly intelligible to the person to whom you speak.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks to four young Ukrainian masterminds, those of us who don’t know sign language will now be able to understand and communicate with the speech and hearing impaired, which affect about 40 million people around the world.

Taking first place at this year’s Microsoft Imagine Cup competition in Sidney, the Ukrainian students presented their hi-tech prototype: gloves that translate sign language into speech.

How it works

Called Enable Talk, the prototype gloves have 15 built-in flex sensors, a micro-controller, and solar cells to extend battery life. The gloves register the wearer’s hand movements, which are transmitted to the micro-controller on the back of the glove. The controller then analyses and translates the motion into text. The text data is then sent via Bluetooth to a text-to-speech engine connected to a mobile device, which translates the text into speech.

With Enable Talk users will be able to program their own hand gestures and even modify the standard ones included in the system – a great feature considering sign language, like spoken language, can vary significantly around the world.

This device is not the first of its kind; there are several similar projects

under development, but they fall short

of the technology offered by

Enable Talk and are far more costly, at about US$1200. The Ukrainian team foresee a retail price of US$400 for a pair of gloves.

The Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing Your Translations

In 2006, Jeff Howe came up with the term crowdsourcing – “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

Although crowdsourcing has become a very popular word since then, the concept has actually been exercised for hundreds of years. For instance, in the 1800s, the Oxford English Dictionary was born thanks to thousands of contributors sending in definitions of words on slips of paper.

Today, Wikipedia makes use of wisdom of the crowds to provide us with mass amounts of information at our fingertips. Since 2008, Facebook has relied on its users to translate its website into multiple languages in a short period of time.

Using the wisdom of the crowd for translation can bring many perks to your business, but like most things, it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Here are some to consider:


  • Strength in numbers: Crowdsourcing allows you to tap into a large pool of people and their knowledge. This can come in very handy when you are translating your content into an uncommon language, localizing your

    website, or detailed knowledge of your subject matter and field is required.

  • No cost: Allowing the crowd to help improve and correct errors on your translations is free.
  • Speed: Many people contributing to your translations can cover a lot more ground in less time than a single person or a small team.
  • Brand awareness: Engaging the crowd can help increase your brand awareness and loyalty.


  • Managing

    the process: If you have a large crowd of contributors, managing their input can be time consuming and complicated. We can help here! With dakwak’s crowdsourced platform, you can effortlessly manage, approve and publish your crowd’s suggestions.

  • Questionable quality: Without a good crowdsourcing process in place, translation errors and inconsistencies can arise. A large pool of people is

    going to generate input of differing quality, some great and some not so. Another potential problem that could lead to discrepancies is regional variations of a language.

  • Unreliable: Because the crowd is essentially giving you feedback for free, the

    information might not be very reliable or accurate.

Bilingualism: Fuel for the Brain

Throughout the ages language has been our tool to communicate ideas, share information and express ourselves. It is so deeply rooted in our cultural and social identities that today it is estimated there are over 5000 languages and dialects spoken around the world.

In our increasingly interconnected world, knowing more than one language is highly advantageous, opening the door to broader human interaction. For a business, language is a vital instrument to reach new markets and expand.

But did you know that learning a second language also fuels our brain? According to studies, understanding and regularly speaking another language boosts brain performance. This is particularly enhanced in bilingual people, who perform better than monolingual people in tasks involving prioritising, multi-tasking, memory and attention span.

Researchers believe that in a bilingual person, the brain has to continuously separate and switch between the two languages, concentrating

on one at a time. This function is in essence a form of brain training, keeping the mind “fit”, much like doing Sudoku and crossword puzzles.

Other studies have shown that the active minds of bilingual individuals can help delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by an average of four years.

Didn’t learn a second language as a child? Don’t worry, because scientific research suggests you can still boost your brain power by learning a second language as an adult.

If you want to learn a new language and give your brain a work out, check out these popular apps and online sites:

Machine or Professional Translation: When Should You Use Which?

You are considering translating your website and are stuck at a crossroad: do you go with machine translation (MT) or professional (human) translation?

It really all depends. Factors such as your priorities, goals and budget will no doubt play a big role in your decision. If cost and speed are of the essence and you are willing to compromise on the highest quality, then MT may be your best solution.

On the other hand if you do not have a lot of volume to translate and quality output is your priority over cost and speed, you may want to consider human translation.

Or – and here is where the great versatility of the multi-layered dakwak translation system comes into play – you can use a mixture of both to suit your needs. Today, most businesses find that using both MT and human translation is most beneficial to them in terms of cost, productivity and quality.

The key lies in identifying which of your web pages to machine translate and which are best left to a human translator. While there is no clear-cut formula that will give you the answer, the idea is to use machine translation for pages that are not at the forefront of your website and/or are of lower importance to you. More important pages would benefit from the higher quality of professional translation.

When to use MT
Machines are not humans; they can understand and translate words but not meaning or context. As a result, we cannot expect MT to produce the highest quality of output. But is the highest quality always necessary? According to some businesses: no. As long as customers in international markets can be reached and the general gist of the information is understood, that may be all that matters.

Consider using MT

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  1. Price is a priority. MT is the cheapest option, making it a great first step for start-ups and companies with tight budgets. Remember you or one of your team can easily edit the output or you can make use of our crowd-sourced platform that allows visitors to your site to contribute to your translations
  2. Speed is a priority. MT is fast, super fast, and capable of translating hundreds of pages of text in an instant.
  3. Accuracy is not your main priority and you just want to get a general idea across.
  4. You have a large volume of content that is not at the forefront of your website, such as archived blog posts, press releases and articles that you still want to

    make available in another language.

  5. You want to translate your website into multiple languages (5 or more) that couldn’t realistically be done with human translation.
  6. You have technical documents such as manuals. Finding a translator with technical knowledge in your field is not always easy.
  7. You are thinking about redesigning your website in the near future. It will probably not be worth your time and money to invest in a human translator at this stage.
  8. You are translating between closely related language pairs. MT is very accurate with language pairs such as Swedish and Danish, Russian and Ukrainian, and Spanish and Portuguese.

When to rely on professional translation
Some content should not be left to MT lest you fall prey to a costly and not to mention embarrassing situation! If not translated from the source language, at the very least, the following should be meticulously scrutinized by a professional translator:

  1. Content that is at the forefront of your website such as your About US and Product pages or pages that portray your corporate image.
  2. Content that is more detailed and requires a deeper understanding than just conveying a general idea.
  3. Content that needs to be adapted to the particular cultural context of a country.
  4. Content that requires creativity or a “human touch”.
  5. Marketing messages such

    as slogans. You cannot rely on MT for your slogans or you might end up in a less than ideal situation, as Kentucky Fried Chicken knows only too well. Its slogan “finger lickin’ good” was mistranslated into Chinese as “eat your fingers off.” (Time Magazine. Nov. 17, 2003).

  6. Legal documents, contracts.
  7. Financial reports.
  8. Calls for tenders.
  9. Safety information.