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Cross-Cultural Tip:

Translate and Reverse Translate

This is a tip worthy of repitition.  Chances are good that you have heard about the well-known and unfortunate (but funny) translation mishaps, like GM’s attempt to market the Nova in Latin America, except that “no va” actually means “no go.”

But, some equally massive translation mishaps are not as well known (and keep ocurring).

How many of these are familiar to you?

  • The American Dairy Association attempted to expand its “Got Milk?” campaign into Mexico.  However, the Spanish translation literally meant “Are you Lactating?”
  • When KFC brought its “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan to China, there were inadvertently telling their customers to “Eat Your Fingers Off.”
  • Schweppes attempted to market its tonic water in Italy, only to find that they appeared to be selling “Schweppes Toilet Water.”
  • Clairol introduced a curling iron called “Mist Stick” to the German market without realizing that “mist” is a common German slang word for manure – not too appealing to most women as a beauty product.
  • American Airlines sought to market its leather first class seats in Mexico.  Unfortunately, their “Fly in Leather” campaign translated into “Fly Naked” in Spanish – certainly less unappealing than the manure stick, but still not the intended message.

These mishaps are anything but funny to the unfortunate organizations that led these campaigns.  They underscore the frequently forgotten advice:  Reverse translate.