Could a bad translation cost an election?

Nov 13, 2012 | Translation

The recent American election has again highlighted the need to make sure your translations are 100% accurate, and do the job they need to do properly.

There is of course huge ethnic diversity across America, with nearly a fifth of U.S. residents speaking a language other than English, and the election materials were translated into a total of 68 languages, covering 25 states and 248 counties. With this amount of material, it is unsurprising that some errors were made. But even a small translation mistake can have huge repercussions.

For example, a Korean translation in California warned of a sales tax raise of 25 cents; it should have read a quarter of a cent. An easy mistake to make, but potentially a vote changer. A Chinese translation in LA directed voters to choose up to three city council members instead of two. This ‘small’ error is thought to have incurred further costs of up to $10,000 to fix.  In Arizona, the date was wrong on Spanish translated voter cards and on an Illinois website, Chinese voters were directed to enter their “last 4 nuclear submarines” instead of the last 4 digits of their social security numbers.

So how can you avoid embarrassing, costly and potentially damaging mistranslations? Well that one’s easy – hire a professional. And make sure they can work in the correct dialect for that country or area. The translator should also have experience and expertise in the subject matter and understand who the audience is.Then, get it checked by another native-speaker.

Mistakes are easily made, in your own native language as well as in translation. But by getting both the initial translation and the checking done by qualified, professional native-speakers you are reducing the risks dramatically. A trustworthy, professional translation agency can take all those worries away and ensure you get the right language solution.