For some app developers, translation may be an afterthought. Especially for those who work in small startups where expanding internationally may not have been part of the original business plan, when it does come time to move into overseas markets, it's often tempting to turn to quick and easy translation solutions to take care of the text so you can spend more time on design or UX implementation.
However, there's far more to proper translation than just transcribing the meanings of individual words. International regions have not only their own language, but often their own colloquialisms, proverbs and other common sayings that have meaning over and above the literal one. Here are some key ways professional translation can help you make sure you're understood.
"Web-based services are historically awful at distinguishing nuance."
Proverbs and colloquialisms
Colloquialisms and folk-sayings are perhaps among the more difficult errors for a machine service to detect, since on a word-by-word basis these common sayings may not be mistranslated. Rather, it's not the individual words, but the overall meaning as a whole that must be preserved in these instances, and Web-based services are historically awful at distinguishing this kind of nuance.
For example, if you're working in a German market and you see the common phrase "Du gehst mir tierisch auf den Keks," a machine service would tell you that means "You walk me animally on the cookie." You wouldn't be mistaken if you thought this was meaningless babble – but a professional German translation service would tell you that this is actually a common saying akin to "You're driving me crazy." This is just one of many examples that demonstrates that preserving the spirit of a message is just as important as translating its content word-for-word.
If you aren't familiar with a given tongue, it's possible you may not even know that a translation error has occurred. In such cases, unwitting developers may even preserve the erroneous translation thinking it's grammatically correct.
One example highlights an instance where a company tried to translate the Chinese for "restaurant" into English. The machine translation service used wasn't able to come up with a suitable option, instead returning the message "Translate server error." Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with English may not realize what such a message means, and may even assume that "Translate server error" is in fact the translation they're looking for. This embarrassing mistake can sabotage your efforts at moving into foreign markets, as well as cost you money in revising printed and online materials.