Today is International Translation Day! The 30th of September is celebrated by the Federation of Translators as a day for understanding one another because it is the feast day of St. Jerome. St. Jerome is known as the Patron Saint of Translators after being the first to translate the Bible.

In our globalised society, it can be hard to remember a time before translation services were so crucial to speaking to a global audience. But many companies have fallen prey to poor translation over the years, and in the process have either made them a laughing stock, or put their customers in danger. If you’ve ever wondered why you need professional blog services for your business, heed the warning of these companies who have suffered at the hands of poor translation.

Coca-Cola Advertisement in China

Coke, Pepsi, or Neither?

The iconic logos belonging to multinational beverage giants Coke and Pepsi are widely recognised in non-English speaking countries these days, but when these companies attempted to crack the market in China and Taiwan. The name Coca-Cola was first translated to ke-kou-ke-la, which while sounding similar to the English name, means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on where the reader was from. Screeds of printed advertisements had to be destroyed. Meanwhile, Pepsi’s popular “Pepsi Generation” campaign had a spanner thrown in the works when entering the Taiwanese market, when the slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” was translated to “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”.[1]

Got Milk Campaign by the California Milk Processor Board

Got Cultural Gaffes?

In 1994, The California Milk Processor Board launched its first campaign to target the state’s large Hispanic community. The Board’s campaign “Got Milk?” was hugely successful in the English community, but when translated to Spanish, the slogan asked, “Are you lactating?” Even worse, the Board soon found out that the slogan would not have worked culturally either. Running out of milk, rice or beans is not considered funny in the average Spanish-speaking household – many families would be ashamed or embarrassed to run out of these basics. The campaign had to be completely overhauled and a multicultural marketing approach had to be taken. A more traditional campaign with the tagline “Y Usted, Les dio suficiente leche hoy?” (“And you, did you give them enough milk today?”) was created instead.[2]


Doctor Michel Aubertel waits for the verdict in Paris Photo- AFP/GETTY

Doctor Michel Aubertel waits for the verdict in Paris Photo- AFP/GETTY

Risking Lives with Poor Translation

While Coke, Pepsi and milk translation bungles can be laughed at, getting language translation wrong isn’t all fun and games. In Epinal, France between 1989 and 2006, hundreds of cancer patients were incorrectly administered radiation treatments by French-speaking hospital staff, who were attempting to decipher the radiation machine’s instruction manual that was provided to them, in English. Five people died and many more suffered from terrible pain as a result.[3]

Get it Right the First Time

Businesses big and small should be mindful that not all translation services are created equal. If you’ve tried to use an online translation machine or a rookie translator, chances are you’ve come up with a few curly translation errors that could be compared to biting a wax tadpole or asking someone if they’re lactating. When you’re ready to reach out to your customers in their language, contact LAT Multilingual.