The next time you’re watching the next international flick on Netflix or some other streaming service, think about the effort to translate the original script to English subtitles: idioms must be understood (which is impossible at times), the intent of the message has to be clear, the tone must be consistent, and the resulting translations must not be too long to read. Things can get hairy fast with just one line of translation.

When Translations Go Wrong

While translations can be done with a click of a Google Translate button, the accuracy behind such actions can be devastating. Take, for example, the United States Dairy Association (USDA). Their slogan, “Got Milk” was extremely successful decades ago and really did get people to drink more milk for most of the US. In fact, those who have seen the ads have had plenty of celebrity milk mustaches burned into our brains!

However, it had the opposite effect on the Spanish-speaking demographic. There was a large blunder when translating “Got Milk” into Spanish. “¿Tienes Leche?” was the final translation, translating to “Are You Lactating?” This was offensive not only to Spanish speakers but also to women and people who knew of women having difficulties with producing breast milk. The Spanish translation oversight was a bad look for the USDA and did some serious damage to milk sales. Even forgetting who your target audience is, as Marriot did in China did, can be costly.

Obviously, not every incorrect translation is as devastating as the USDA or Marriot example. Poor translations can cause a slight disconnect with your customer, which can lead to missed opportunities. Fortunately, poor translations can be easily fixed with the right human intervention. The USDA could have easily collaborated with a native Spanish speaker to prevent “¿Tienes Leche?” from being the Spanish slogan. Therefore, always remember to check!

Machine Versus Human Translations

Machine translations use probability to predict the most likely translations while human translations use human judgment to translate. Perhaps machine translations were the reason why the USDA faced the issues that they did.

Regardless, machine translations are extremely accurate when directly translating shorter sentences that do not require any context, saving a lot of time and effort for translations. The challenge is when context is needed. Natural language processing has advanced machine translations and can demonstrate accuracy for these more complex translations requiring context.

As far as quality goes, human translations are the superior choice for translations. Additionally, when copywriting comes into play, humans are very much needed to build captivating and unique messaging. This aspect may never be fully replaced with machine translations.

Getting Translations  Right the First Time

Revisiting Netflix, we’re confident that they’re getting it right with human translations. Otherwise, you’d see Netflix in the news more for their translation blunders. Unsure of what to think? Reach out to Uplancer to get help with translations. 

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