Best Practices

Warning Signs and Consequences of Bad Translation

It’s hard to judge the quality of a translation in a language you don’t understand. You’ll figure it out eventually, but there are always consequences of bad translation. If it’s no more than a delay in your production schedule or a string of complaints, you’re lucky.
Luciana Fairman
2 min
Table of Contents

It’s hard to judge the quality of a translation in a language you don’t understand. You’ll figure it out eventually, but there are always consequences of bad translation. If it’s no more than a delay in your production schedule or a string of complaints, you’re lucky. Bad translation could be the reason you’re not breaking into a market. Or worse, it could be the reason your reputation plummets.So your choice of language service provider (LSP) is a huge decision with lasting consequences. There are warning signs when a translation company may not be providing the level of service you expect.

Warning Signs of Bad Translation

There are a number of signs that point to quality issues with a translation provider, and each of them has a unique impact. Here are some of the most glaring signs:

1. Lack of transparency

This might not be obvious to you at first glance, but it should be a primary consideration. It’s one thing if a vendor tells you about the talented team that will be working on your content. Actually seeing it is something else. It’s a sign of respect and commitment when your translation partner is up front with you about the linguists qualifications, and it’s even better when you can actually communicate with those individuals. When you have transparency like that, you always know how your project is going. It makes problem solving easier and quicker, and it instills a greater sense of commitment in the translators you work with, as they will feel that they are a part of your company’s mission.

2. Inadequate time for planning and strategy

Completing a large translation requires a number of steps that can’t be rushed. If a vendor seems to be offering something that’s too good to be true, beware. You may have 20 translators working on the project without enough time to coordinate among themselves, and a rushed job definitely doesn’t offer enough time to develop terminology. And never mind getting to know your brand and your markets and tailoring their language to your audience. The translators who work for you might not even be right for the project. If a vendor doesn’t build in enough time for strategy and planning—essentially, they aren’t building the opportunity for good translations from the start.

3. Misusing machine translation or not localizing at all

It’s always worth asking your vendor how they make use of machine translation. It’s not a problem if a vendor leverages machine translation (MT), but it matters how. At its best, MT can help translators reach better efficiency. But it can become a crutch if the vendor hasn’t built in sufficient time and support for linguists—and if they haven’t set clear expectations of quality. It is possible to feed a string into the machine, touch it up here and there, and then deliver. But it’s not going to achieve your goals for local market success.In the hands of qualified linguists who are committed to adapting the content to resonate with foreign markets, machine translation is a big help. It’s not the be-all or end-all—it takes a human to maintain certain linguistic standards to best represent your product and your brand.

4. “We can beat any price” messages

Preoccupation with making a sale could have an unfortunate effect on the quality of the service provided. This is simply a race to the bottom; you may get what you pay for, but it won’t be high-quality work. Ultimately, you want to hire a vendor that values their work highly! LSPs that are willing to push their prices low just for the sake of securing your business likely don’t have your ambitious end goals top of mind—if they’re even able to support those goals fully in the first place.

5. Lack of knowledgeable linguists

You can’t underestimate the importance of good linguists—translators and editors. In this field, there are two types of qualifications. Some people are linguists as well as being professionals in another field. Others are professional linguists, trained to write about specific professions. If someone promises you a large staff of specialists with experience in a narrow field when the reality is a very limited labor pool, that’s a pretty obvious red flag. What you do want to see is engagement from talented linguists working in a well-supported localization ecosystem. Your vendor should seek brand orientation, documentation, and an interest in increasing subject matter knowledge. Those are the tools of the professional linguist.

6. Repeated negative feedback

If you are giving the same feedback on separate translations, it’s a sign that those important messages are not reaching the right people and/or they are not being documented to ensure quality and consistency. The vendor may not be updating your translation memories, which is critical, or they may not be updating your term bases, which is even worse.There is a subtle point to note here, though. Feedback is good. You need feedback from your customer base, and your vendor needs feedback from you. You are all supposed to be on the same team, so give feedback with a sense of camaraderie. Then expect real results.

7. No discussion of terminology

Building guidelines, whether terminology or style guidelines, should occur continuously in an ongoing project. This too requires teamwork. Your vendor should be reaching out to you with ways to remain engaged with your brand and encourage further terminology development in the target language. If it isn’t happening, then you can expect inconsistencies, which can lead to poor-quality content and potentially bigger consequences.

The Consequences of Bad Translation

What does it take to thoroughly manage the quality of your translations? Many companies have employees or partners, such as PR agencies, that are in-market and can assess translation quality. There are also a lot of quality management tasks that can be automated, saving you headaches and building a more solid foundation for successful localization. But what’s really at stake when you’re considering various pathways for translation projects ahead?The inconvenience of a translation receiving a bad review is little compared to problems such as:


The laws in foreign locales are probably not the same as what you’re used to at home. And sometimes, you are actually required by law to get certain things right. A translation error could have bigger legal implications than you’re anticipating. These mistakes could simply ruin your chances in a local market. Or, worse, mistakes could squash your company before it even has the chance to stretch abroad—costing you more money than you can recover.

Brand damage

Bad translations can be laughable or they can be devastating. You won’t establish authority, reliability, or prestige with bad translations. The quality of your translations will be imputed to your brand, especially in digital environments, so there is the potential for ascending or descending brand identity. You definitely want the former eventuality.

Inadvertent offense

It can be insulting to be in the target audience for negligent work. Sometimes the poor quality itself is offensive, but other times there are gaffes of much greater magnitude in the form of cultural insensitivity. Don’t forfeit a market because you hire the wrong translation partner. Expert localizers know how to speak to in-market audiences with effective sensitivity and appeal.

Missed opportunities

Let’s say that you’re translating your user interface for somebody to sign up for your product or service online. And then there’s a payment page. If the pricing system is not clear in translation or if you aren’t effectively linked with the necessary foreign payment systems, people aren’t going to buy it. All it takes is signing on with the right localization partner to get good translations and internationalization efforts.


If you are not fully aware of the progress of your project and you discover at the last minute that there’s something wrong with a translation, you may have to delay a release. Or the translation may be fine but it has UI/UX issues on some devices, like running off of smartphone screens; that lack of QA will derail your release just as quickly.

Additional costs and resources spent

Bad translation can cause problems with local authorities, with your customer base, and inside the company too. The cascade doesn’t necessarily stop there either. Another potentially catastrophic result of bad translation that will touch all of those areas is in-house training. If you’re training employees with bad translations, brand understanding is distorted from the start, and you’re multiplying the negative consequences. It can lead to problems with your business performance through customer service and operational efficiencies.These problems, if they arise, are likely to come up in clusters: you can miss opportunities, offend the public, and get into trouble with government regulators all at once. If it’s bad enough, you’ll have to start over from scratch. That’s time, money, and human labor down the drain—serious consequences from a single poor choice. It’s a good idea to make sure you have top-rated language services from the beginning.

How to Advance Content Localization Quality Management

Good translation takes communication—a free exchange of information and feedback among translators, editors, your in-house team, and any other stakeholders. It takes standardization to produce solid quality on an ongoing basis. This is most attainable using an experienced, reputable localization services provider with a centralized, automated localization platform. With this setup, the progress of a job can be tracked in detail, and all stakeholders can interact with ease. You may be particularly happy to note the high level of transparency and quality management possible, which will build your confidence in the translations and your end product.AtBureau Works, we provide translation and localization services using an automated platform that hosts resources and tools and that allows transparent tracking and management. Our services have evolved with years of experience to enable top-notch localization with efficient use of your time and money.Contact our teamtoday to find out how you tap into reliable and efficient localization.

Written by Luciana Passos

Luciana is Bureau Work’s COO. She is known as a gap bridger and a heart follower.

Luciana Fairman
Luciana is Bureau Works COO. She is known as a gap bridger and a heart follower.
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