HSBC, known worldwide for its tagline “the world’s private bank”, was once busy preparing a campaign titled “Assume Nothing”. But when the campaign finally launched globally, many countries misinterpreted the copy and translated it into “Do Nothing”. To straighten out this fatal mistake, HSBC ended up disbursing $10 million for rebranding. This event was recorded as one of the biggest losses in advertising and the banking industry at the time.

In the communications process, language plays an important role in interpreting the message to be conveyed. In the case above, it is clear that the company’s message was not delivered properly due to a mistranslation. To avoid similar mistakes, let’s learn a little more about translations.

What is translation and what goes into the process?

Translation means reiterating a message in a certain source language in a target language using equivalent text to communicate. J.C. Catford, a Scottish linguist, categorizes general translation into three categories: word for word translation, free translation, and literal translation. Still, other types of translations exist, including pragmatic translation, aesthetic-poetic translation, as well as ethnographic, semantic, dynamic, and linguistic translations.

A credible and well-structured translation requires several important steps. The process begins with the analysis phase to review the text or document to be translated, followed by the transfer phase to translate the language in the appropriate style and language. Restructuring is then conducted to identify good sentence structures. The process ends with the evaluation phase for a final review.

Why are quality translators important?

Moving forward, the demand for translation will continue to increase. According to the US Bureau of Statistics, the translation industry is expected to grow by 42 percent in 2020. Such growth will also occur in Indonesia as international business relations, technological advances, and information access expand.

Along with the growth of the global economy and free trade, multinational companies are expanding to Indonesia. Likewise, many local companies start to “go international”. These companies require local contents with international touch that meet global standard of quality, yet remain close and familiar to local audience.

High demand for good translation will be followed by the increasing need for qualified translators. In Indonesia, the limited number of professional translators has encouraged many people to become translators despite their basic grasp of the English language. Many translators end up using automated translation technology (with machines) or translation support technology (with computers) to obtain fast but unreliable translations.

Translation is not as simple as translating a text or document word by word. The translation process is closely related to language. The use of good and proper language will result in smooth two-way communication. On the other hand, the wrong choice of language will only cause confusion and destroy reputations. Another factor to consider is that good translators should be able to adapt to the culture and industry in which the translation will be used. To sum up, the role of a professional translator is vital in producing credible translations. Machines may be able to translate words, but only humans can translate the intention behind the words to convey the right message.

by Dimas Anggara