Translation Mistakes that Caused a Big Issue

Translation Mistakes that Caused a Big Issue

Speaking many languages does not ensure that you are qualified to work in the industry of language translation services. Translation is a unique skill that professionals work hard to develop. The importance of an appropriate translation is more relevant when things go wrong.

Here we can mention some common translation mistakes that caused a big economic loss for the company or affect a whole community. We hope you find it helpful, and that you will bear these in mind, taking care not to commit these mistakes.


Years ago, an international corporation made a little translation error which resulted in a costly outcome. HSBC launched their catchphrase “Assume Nothing” and in several countries this was mistakenly translated as “Do Nothing.” As a result of this the company had to launch a re-branding campaign valued at around $ 10 million to repair the damage caused.

The story of how ill-chosen translation of the Japanese word “Mokusatsu” was led to the United States decision to drop the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and is well known to many linguists. In July of 1945, the US issued the Potsdam declaration demanding Japan’s surrender to prevent devastation of the mentioned homeland. The US waited patiently for the Japanese reply. The Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki answered to the US using the Japanese word “Mokusatsu” which works out as “No comment” or “Ignore with contempt”. The latter translation was used. Within 10 days later the atomic bomb was dropped and Hiroshima was bombed. So do you see how many problems can be caused, thanks to a silly translation?

Pepsi will bring you ancestors back to life?: Several high profile western companies have had difficulties when translating their marketing copy into Chinese. Pepsi made this mistake when they unwittingly translated their “come alive with the Pepsi generation” slogan as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave. Incoherent promise.

It is not just the grammar, spelling and punctuation that have to be double-checked. It is also important to know about the laws and regulations of the country you are dealing with. The assumption that “they’ll understand English so I don’t need to translate this for them” could come at a cost to your company. Take the example of the Californian medical equipment company, which sold a device in France without translating the instructions for how to use it. Their assumption that the machine operators would be fluent in English not only caused the deaths of several patients from radiation overdose administered by poorly informed technicians, but the company was also in breach of the French law for all documentation to be provided in the French language. Not translating something can cause problems too!

Last but not least In the United States the date is written in the following order MM/DD/YYYY and in the UK is written by DD/MM/YYYY. You have a business meeting in the US scheduled for

03/04/2013 so do you go on the 4th March or 3rd April?. Just with a simple misunderstanding you could loose a business deal.

It’s easy to fall into languages’ small traps, even with your mother tongue language. And it is even easier when you are not fluent in the language you are translating into. The only way to avoid language translation mistakes is to hire professional translation services.

A good translation is the card of presentation of a company. Visit our website for more information about our language translation services.