Using an online translation tool to convert a word or phrase into another language can be very tempting. While it may be helpful for personal use, making it a practice for business can be dangerous due to the negative impact it can have on your business’ reputation.

How it works

Online translation tools only take in words. The programs are designed with algorithms that translate word to word. Also, many of the tools figure out how frequently certain words are used together and then it pulls the best option as the result. Tone or context is not taken into consideration. Thus, those vital parts of the language are literally lost in translation. A quick online search will reveal numerous examples of incorrect or badly translated signs such as this slideshow feature on the Chicago Tribune website.

Typos will hurt you

An online translation tool will take exactly what you put in. If the user inputs an incorrect spelling of a word — or a word within a phrase — the translation will immediately be incorrect. While some tools will point out a misspelling, if the word is technically spelled correctly, that error will not be caught. For example, say you intended to type the word “thought” into the tool. Instead, you type in “though.” The translator will not catch the error because there are no semantics involved.

Same word, different meaning

The word “fan” can mean something that circulates air. However, it can also refer to people who support a sports team. In America, the word “braces” refers to something children have on their teeth. In Great Britain, the same word, spelled the same way, is something used to hold up pants; it is the equivalent to the word “suspenders” in the United States. Online translation tools don’t know this. The concept of localization does not apply.

Impact on business

While those slideshows and websites dedicated to poor translations may be humorous, when it comes to business, it’s no laughing matter. Today’s economy demands that businesses that extend a global reach do so correctly. If you are going to stake your reputation on what you say, it’s worth using professionals who will not only translate words correctly, but will take time to understand the complete message you are delivering.