We recently returned from a 10-day vacation in Japan. My family and I spent 5 days in Tokyo and 5 days in Kyoto. It was a fabulous trip. I cannot say enough about how much we loved Japan; the people, the culture, the food, and the train stations.

It was interesting being in a place that uses a different alphabet. While I’ve been to Europe many times, this was my first trip to Asia and my first exposure to being in a country that has a completely different character set.

Luckily, almost everything was translated into English – of one form or another. Menus, signs, awnings, labels, pretty much everything had some amount of English written on it.

Much of the time, the English translations were pretty awful. For example, a store awning proudly displayed “Motercycles for Rent”. On a trip to the Imperial Gardens, there was a sign placed right near the entrance to the ticket booth that read “Don’t stay here”. I think they meant “No loitering” or “No waiting by the ticket counter”. But, “don’t stay here” was extremely amusing. We all got a great laugh out of it.

It got me thinking about poor quality translations and how they affect me. Overall, I found them to be great entertainment and sometimes akin to solving a Mensa puzzle. I almost always could figure out what the intention of the translation was and act on it accordingly. My trip wasn’t spoiled in any way by poor English translations.

Then again, I wasn’t trying to install a new piece of electronics, use a medical device, or really do anything important. I was on vacation and the mis-translations were part of the ambiance of the trip.

Had I been a paying customer trying to use a piece of software, install a piece of hardware, or do anything of remote substance, I don’t think I’d feel the same way. At worst, I could make serious and potentially life-threatening mistakes. At best, I’d laugh at the quality of the translation, and the value of the brand would be diminished in my eyes.

I wonder how people in other countries feel about poor translations from English? I wonder how much frustration poor translations cause them? I wonder what impact poor translations have on their assessment of the product and brand?

Val Swisher
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