A Price That Is Too High to Pay

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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Techniques  »  A Price That Is Too High to Pay

A Price That Is Too High to Pay

By Jianjun Zhang | Published  11/4/2006 | Translation Techniques | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://mlt.proz.com/doc/1016
Jianjun Zhang
United Kingdom
English to Chinese translator
View all articles by Jianjun Zhang

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Oftentimes, wrong decisions come from common myths about using a translation service. ATA (American Translators Association) provides a very good, yet easy to read, booklet educating clients what translation is all about. Here’s the link to the PDF file: http://www.atanet.org/docs/Getting_it_right.pdf

O.K. Let me have your attention again please. It’s not difficult to find bad translations popping up around us. In my article , let me only concentrate on Chinese translations.

I found this translation on one website (when you are invited by someone to join it, you’ll see this page):

Only six degrees separate all the people in the world.
The corresponding Chinese was rendered as:


Through the introduction of at most six people, you can know anyone in the world.

Imagine a visitor who is invited by a colleague, clicks on a link and lands on a page saying this! My own feeling is that I am encouraged to get up to six invitations so I can know anybody in the world. But how? Is it logical? I was already a member when I saw this. I guessed it talked about the six degrees of connections we could make at the site. The English and French versions proved that. But it could be misleading to a newcomer who isn’t familiar with this mechanism of the website.

It is not that Chinese doesn’t have a way to express the exact idea of “degree”, which in this sense could be rendered as “层” or “级”。Of course, the Chinese language structure can be very different from that of western languages. But as long as we keep the original meaning, tone and style, structure can be a second consideration.

My attempt: 只需六层联系人(six degrees of contacts),您即可遍识天下英才。

This one instance won’t hurt a business much. But bad translations on Skype is probably a different story. It is my observation that Skype is not as popular in China. I don’t know if this is directly caused by its not-so-user-friendly Chinese interface, but this surely contributes to its unpopularity. A few months ago, when I was using an older version of Skype, I even found a typo there in its Chinese translation. Now the typo is gone, but bad translations are still there. (Skype [Beta] Version and earlier)

Let’s look at one of them:

English Version:
View –> Hide Contacts That Are –> Not Sharing Details

SC Version:
视图 –> 不显示 –> 未验证通过我的请求的联系人

“Not sharing details” was translated as “未验证通过我的请求的联系人”, which is very ambiguous and could be interpreted as “Contacts that passed my request unverified” or “Contacts that passed my request are not verified”. But the problem is neither of them are correct. It’s simply “Not sharing details” or “未分享详细信息”. The TC (Traditional Chinese) translation is “不分享個人資訊” or “Not Sharing Personal Information”, which is also good.

If you care to spend a little more time on Skype, you will find many other inappropriate SC translations that defy a user’s efforts to enjoy it - fragments of untranslated English words mixed with Chinese, stiff and alien sentences that you have to read several times before getting its meaning, etc.

PayPal is popular in many parts of the world. But its localized Chinese version “贝宝” has language problems. In an unofficial Powwow held in Beijing last may, a project manager of a Beijing-based translation company revealed to us that he got the bid for the localization of PayPal China (www.paypal.com.cn, whose services are limited to the Chinese market. These accounts can’t send or receive money outside mainland China).

When the website was launched last year, I was disappointed at its unnatural and unwieldy Chinese interface. I experienced this browsing through most parts of the site where it was localized. In some cases, I have to read twice or thrice to understand a sentence. As I do not need its service and do not like the Chinese language style it used, I stay away from it.

One interesting thing happened to me a few days ago. I tried to purchase some Skype credit using PayPal and was redirected to a Chinese language page:

贝宝可以安全地处理您的 商家的付款,Skype. 如想继续,请在下方输入必要信息。了解有关贝宝的详情。

PayPal can securely process your merchant’s payment, Skype. If you want to continue, please enter necessary information below. Learn details of PayPal.

I tried many times to get to its English page but failed. So I can’t provide a comparison here. However, the sentence is obviously awkward. Skype, apparently the merchant’s name, didn’t appear at the proper place. And there is a redundant space in the first part of the sentence. If this is not bad translation, it shows bad QA.

For software and website localization efforts, where we have to translate out-of-context segments in the first stage, a UI Review is indispensable to ensure quality. When the translation process is over, proofreading begins. Then the target language text is integrated into the software/website by the client’s engineering team. After that, the translation service provider begins a UI Review to ensure everything works well. If the service providers had a QA process where this Review was responsibly conducted, the above stories should not have occurred.

In many cases, clients simply hired those “cost-efficient” services at the expense of losing market share. A good language interface not only gives users easy access to functionality, but also gives users due respect! If you decide to speak their language, speak well.

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