Recently I was in Jakarta on some business. As it happened, there was an international marine expo nearby, and it was open to the public. I had some free time, so why not, let’s go take a look.
It is pretty typical of big expo everywhere. Lots of international companies trying to convince the visitors that their company is the best. I saw companies from Germany, Singapore, Japan, United Kingdoms, China, and of course, Indonesia.
Although I have nothing to do with the shipbuilding, offshoring, and other related marine industries, I ended up given so many brochures for my perusal. I took them to be polite, and hey, it’s something to read later. Did I mention that I had some free time?
Much to my amusement, I found that many of the brochures were apparently written by people who aren’t quite fluent in English. This is particularly noticeable in Asian companies. Some of them are good, but a significant fraction are not. I’ll refrain from naming companies. Some of the mistakes were simple misspellings. They may have been honest typos that didn’t get properly proofread. But many others bore the stilted writing of a word-for-word translation. I suspect that those translations were done internally by an employee. In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you have a proper translator, then it doesn’t matter if the translator were a company employee or hired from a translation agency or an independent freelancer. But as it turns out, not many companies have people who are good at translating.
Many companies tried to cut costs by writing their promotional material in their native language and then have an employee who is supposed to know the target language translate the promotional material. Why spend money on an actual translator when Jane from marketing can do it? Except that Jane from marketing may have been an excellent marketer, but her qualifications as a translator is less certain. Is she a native speaker of the target language? If not, has she at least lived there for many years and absorbed the culture? Or at least has she focused on studying that language in depth? Even if she has, how much experience as a translator does she have? Does she know enough to avoid an overly literal translation? Or enough to understand some specific jargon?
In marketing, people often says that you must create the best first impression possible. If a potential client walked away because he/she got a bad first impression from you, then you will never even have the chance to impress the potential client with how good your product/service is. So I find it very puzzling that there are companies in a multi-million dollar business like shipbuilding that are unwilling to spend the resources to hire a translator for their promotional material. And not just shipbuilding. Any business that want to reach an international audience should make sure that their promotional material has been translated properly. The cost of a good translator is comparatively very small to the potential revenue. Don’t be penny-wise, pound-foolish. A good translator who can make sure that your pitch reaches the client is a worthy investment.