The bearded don’t shave! Who buys good translations?

Coming across a badly translated website can be painful, particularly if you’re a translator. Sometimes, the translation is so bad, and the pain is so great, that it can cause a translator to get in touch with the company using said terrible translation and offer to fix the mess. As the story usually goes, the company contacted rarely hires the translator to fix the offending translation. It often doesn’t even acknowledge the need to do so, despite how badly this translation may make it look.

Why don’t these companies jump at the chance to have their less-than-perfect translations fixed? They really do need the services of a good translator. You’d expect them to be perfect potential clients. Right? Maybe. What they really might be, though, is just someone who’s happy to use bad translations. Which is the opposite to what most good translators are looking for: clients who use quality translations.

So, the opposite may be true. To find those who need and want good translations, maybe we should look for companies that have perfectly translated material. Unless they got their good translations by accident (unlikely), they won’t be strangers to the notion of quality in translation, and they’ll understand what you’re about and on about.

For the record, I haven’t tried out either approach, but I know which one I’d try first. There is, of course, more to it than the content of this vagrant rambling. Although, even when you do take the argument a little further, you generally end up at the same place. After all, who would you try to sell a BMW to? A Mercedes owner, a Lada driver or someone who only owns a bike? The bearded don’t shave!

Written by Rob

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

6 comments to “The bearded don’t shave! Who buys good translations?”
  1. Very interesting marketing point! We’ll keep that in mind when looking for customers as well. As a side note, I very much enjoy your blog–any interest in guesting on

  2. Well, I don’t know that there’s much basis to it, but it’s another perspective. I’m glad you like the blog. And yes, I might be interested in contributing on your website at some stage.

  3. my 2 cents …. Translation buyers usually have no clue about the quality of the translation that is being delivered, unless they invest in an expensive third party review process. Otherwise they are left with trusting the vendor who provided the translations in the first place and hoping that they paid the right money for it. For the buyer, translation is a business decision. here is $X to translate into A,B and C languages. Once that $X is spent, if they got bad quality, they really have no money left to fix it, so they just live with it.

    • Yes. It’s a little naive and probably a mistake to assume that some translation buyers actually set out to buy substandard translations. In fact, it’s probably not helpful to assume anything about how they go about making their decisions. It may, as you suggest, usually just come down to chance. Although, if this is the case and people do often buy bad translations by accident, you’d think that they’d be happier when translators come along and point out the errors in their translation-buying ways, which, admittedly only anecdotally, doesn’t seem to happen very often. Maybe it’s just that clients don’t want to admit to having made bad decisions—to the translator or internally.

      However, regardless of whether good translations are the result of luck or design, you come to a similar conclusion: Potential clients are not only those with no translation or bad translations. And, when you do approach companies that already have good translations, at least you can start off by complementing them on how good their previous translation decisions proved to be rather than having to criticise them. Even if they just got lucky and the quality of the translations have nothing to do with the decision process.

      Thank you for your thoughts and insight.

  4. Here the explanation: I regularly get frozen food delivered to my home by a frozen-food company. Their products come in platic bags with all the ingredients and receipes, etc. in a variety of different languages on the back.

    I pointed out to the delivery guy that the French and English translations were awful and offered a correction (free of charge!).

    The next time round the delivery man told me he had told the boss and they contacted head office and head office said, they don’t actually need the translations because they do not export their products. They need to transaltions because in Germany customers think very highly of companies that export their products, therefore the translations only fulfill a make-believe effect for marketing purposes and would they want to export their products, they would contact a marketing company in that country and they would organise every thing from their side.

    So there you are. Now I know why I can buy müsli produced at a local factory that has ingredients in around 20 languages, including Arabic, Chinese you-name-it.

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