07.22.2009 by Peter Argondizzo

The Cost of Free Translation

The title of this post might seem odd. Why does free translation carry a cost?

The idea that a free translation has a cost might seem peculiar. Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton presented the Russian Foreign Minister with a Reset button. This button was intended to improve US-Russian relations by implying a reset or new beginning of the relationship.

Unfortunately, the Russian translation actually carried the meaning overcharged. Not at all what was intended.

It is difficult to say for sure, but one could assume that the translation was obtained from either an unqualified translator (the typical scenario, …my cousin’s friend’s gardner’s wife speaks Russian, let’s ask her…) or perhaps another free resource such as a free online translation tool.

A professional linguist simply would not make this mistake. The cost of having this simple translation done by a professional linguist would pale in comparison to the embarrassment caused by this mistake.

We recently came across a prospective client that had previously used online translation tools for product packaging! The client provided the old packaging as reference material. The packages were full of errors. Some of the errors were even potentially dangerous to the end user.

High profile projects such as the Reset button project or product packaging should be treated like any high-level marketing project where multiple translations are considered and a second linguist serves as editor to make sure the final product is error-free.

This is an excellent example of the old adage There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.