How a Single Mistranslated Word Can Trigger Crippling Consequences

It’s easy to overlook the power of a single word – until of course the word in question is translated inaccurately.  Contrary to popular belief, being able to speak and understand more than one language is not the same as being competent in the art of translation.  Simply having a good grasp of the French language for example doesn’t necessarily make for a competent certified document translation specialist.

As is the case in many instances, it’s only when things go wrong that the true criticality of flawless translation becomes apparent.  Uniquely complex, certified translations represent the very dictionary definition of translation services where flawless results are the only acceptable standard.  In terms of how much damage can realistically be done should a single word be mistranslated, we need only refer back to a couple of notable and highly-unfortunate examples.

Around 35 years ago, a teenager by the name of Willie Ramirez was treated for a suspected drug overdose in an American hospital, due to mistranslation of the word «intoxicado».  A bilingual staff member was used as an interpreter, unaware of the fact that «intoxicado» in this instance actually meant that the man had been poisoned.  The appropriate treatment was subsequently delayed, the unfortunate patient became quadriplegic and went on to successfully sue the hospital for $71 million.

More recently, HSBC Bank came to the stark realisation in 2009 that the brand’s “Assume Nothing” slogan was actually being translated in multiple countries as “Do Nothing”.  Once again, a prime example of the way in which one word can entirely alter the meaning of a key business message – in this instance, costing HSBC $10 million to fix the problem.

Of course the above examples are relatively extreme, though nonetheless clearly illustrate exactly how even the most minor of missteps in the translation process can bring about catastrophic consequences.  This is something that applies even more prominently in the instances of certified translations, in which technical language and legal jargon can pose very specific challenges.

For more information on international certified document translations, get in touch with the Semiotic Transfer team today.

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