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A Case for Certified Translators

By Maria Ortiz Takacs, Certified Translator

Quality assurance is one of the most talked-about subjects when it comes to evaluating any translation. And even though quality assurance applies to many different aspects of translation, most mistakes seem to stem from misinterpretations of the original text. These “meaning mistakes” have consequences with several degrees of severity. The classic Fabriqué en dinde (Made in turkey), a literal translation of Fabriqué en Turquie (Made in Turkey), found on an item of clothing, will certainly make us chuckle, but will probably not have any serious repercussions. However, other mistranslations can cause significant problems, not only for product users, but also for the product's manufacturer.

The case of Home Hardware

Recently, a Home Hardware store received a complaint about a mistranslation of one of their products. Lye crystal was translated as cristaux de soude, a harmless compound, instead of soude caustique, a corrosive chemical product that can cause serious injury to users if precautions are not taken. Health Canada, responsible for the enforcement of the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (CCPSA), claims to be working with Home Hardware to make sure the error is corrected as quickly as possible. For its part, Home Hardware said it had instructed all its branches to change the label, but at the time of writing, the product remained in stores with unchanged labels.

“Unhealthy” translation

The Saskatchewan Health Authority had to remove a poster from its website due to the large number of mistakes in the French version. Certified translator Marie-France Kenny took the time to revise it and the result was drastically different. Ms. Kenny found meaning mistakes, as well as tense and agreement errors. Using inexpensive resources to economize might have been the Health Authority’s ultimate goal, but often such supposed savings end up costing much more. And, naturally, the reputation of the organization suffers. However, there is a personal responsibility component in all translation failures. Whoever translated the English text into French surely must know that his or her French-language skills are far from perfect, and should have refused the job, or at least, requested that the text be revised before publication. Of course, the responsibility ultimately lies with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Serious or irreparable consequences

When asked to comment about mistranslation, the President of OTTIAQ, Donald Barabé, explained that mistranslations of certain texts, especially instructions for the use of chemical products, can cause serious or irreparable harm to users. Hiring a certified translator is therefore in a client’s best interests in that it adds an extra layer of protection against possible translation errors since OTTIAQ members have liability insurance. The Association’s mandate is to ensure the protection of the public. To this end, potential members’ qualifications and professional skills are thoroughly verified upon application to join the Association. Moreover, random periodic professional inspections aim at ensuring that members remain up-to-date with new technologies and techniques. All this gives clients peace of mind by ensuring there is a professional responsibility aspect behind any job carried out by a certified translator.

A tarnished image

Leaving aside costly product recalls or court awards, translation errors have other repercussions of varying significance. While harm to customers’ health or even lives will certainly lead to legal action and expensive settlements or fines, in the aftermath of a translation disaster, damage to the brand image and reputation of a company or organization might not be easily repaired. A tainted brand name might end up carrying a negative connotation for the public and affect consumers' purchase intentions, while restoring a corporate image can cost thousands of dollars.

Avoiding costly and embarrassing mistakes

Humans do make mistakes, no matter the  field in which they work. Doctors, lawyers, mechanics, teachers, might make the wrong call at some point in their careers. However, turning to seasoned professionals to do the job is a way of minimizing errors. In the case of translation, a semi-regulated profession for which clients usually don’t ask for proof of formal education, doing business with a certified translator guarantees an underlying vetting process, as translators undergo a thorough quality control assessment before being accepted as certified members of the provincially recognized professional order.

OTTIAQ is dedicated to promoting the hiring of certified translators, cognizant of a client's need to avoid potentially serious mistranslations, since fixing problems is much more expensive than preventing them.

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