All posts by Sarah Silva

Woman sits in front of computer holding her head in her hands

What to Do When You Get a Bad Translation…

…And How to Make Sure It Never Happens Again

What on earth were they thinking? When you sent your German brochure* off to be translated by a professional, you expected professional work – but what you got was amateurish English. Maybe even glaring mistakes. It’s a bad translation, and you don’t need to be a native speaker to see that.

Grab a coffee and let’s get this sorted. I’m going to show you how to salvage your translation, explain what to do next, and how to stop it happening again.

After more than a decade working as a professional translator and editor, I’ve seen some real translation disasters and saved many a dodgy text before it went to print.

You’re in safe hands.

What’s the damage?

Take a look at the translation and see if you can pinpoint the problem(s).

  • Are there blatant errors, typos, spelling mistakes? Hopefully not!
  • Perhaps it’s more specific – the terminology is incorrect for your company or industry.
  • Style, tone: the resulting text is a dull, literal translation of the German, which isn’t what you wanted. For a brochure to market your company and impress prospective clients, you needed more flair. You wanted accuracy but also style and a creative tone, an entirely different approach to a legal document or technical data sheet.
  • The document isn’t ready for print. There are formatting issues where the text doesn’t fit in the same space, the headlines are too long/too short. You wanted a finished product given how much you are paying but what you’ve got is nowhere near the final version.

Here’s what to do next:

Pick out a few examples of these mistakes and briefly explain why you’re not happy. You’re going to send this back to your translator. The more detailed your explanation the better, but if you’re short on time just comment on a couple of instances and use the highlighter function to show a few more.

How much time do you have to fix the damage? Do you have to go to print tomorrow or could you allow a few more days?

The more time you can allow for revision, the better. It’s easier and cheaper to go back to your original translator or agency, who should make the time to resolve these issues asap and for free. If they don’t, strike them off your Christmas card list and never contact them again.

Explain how the end result impacts you – what’s at stake. If your business partners are invested in the outcome then they’ll want to make sure you’re successful. After all, more sales for you usually means more work for them.

A day or so later, you should have a workable solution. Ultimately, if you’re still not happy, it could be worth hiring someone else to polish your brochure to perfection.

Yes, I’m afraid that’s going to cost. But the cost of fixing it will be a fraction of the value of the international sales your polished brochure may bring. And the confidence of knowing you’ve got a brochure that impresses not depresses your potential clients will far outweigh the dent in your budget right now.

When you have the finished and beautifully translated brochure ready to go, you can be sure your customers will be impressed. Your boss will too. They chose the right person for the job when they found you. But cripes, how are you going to stop this happening again?

How to avoid disappointment and get perfect translations every time

Set expectations at the start

Many failed translations are the result of a misunderstanding. Ever seen those signs that display a person’s automated out of office message sent in response to a “please translate this sentence” request? We’re not talking that level of misunderstanding but let’s make sure everyone knows what they’re working towards.

Download and complete my Translation Brief. It guides you through exactly what your translator needs and more. Answer the questions and it’ll help you refine your brief – you might find you actually need a condensed version of your brochure rather than the entire document. Once completed, the brief also gives both parties something to help evaluate the finished product.

Choose wisely

Use a translator specialised in your industry because a legal translator and a literary translator are entirely different species. Not all translators are created equal nor is everyone advertising themselves as a translator suitably qualified.

Make sure your current translation partner is comfortable with your industry and desired style or ask for a recommendation. I might be an excellent fit if you work in the chemical industry but offer me a financial services translation and I’ll run fast in the opposite direction, throwing a referral to a trusted colleague over my shoulder.

Search a translation association’s directory according to the field you need (try for qualified, native English translators).


It’s taken you a fair while to create your brochure so allow as much time as possible for the translation. Ideally you’d allow time for questions back and forth and a final revision. The benefit of allocating a generous deadline means you avoid rush fees and get the best person for the job. The best people are usually busy and not available at short notice unless you’re one of their favourite clients (favouritism, huh?).

Oh, and there’s a third person in this relationship – a proof-reader. Which means even if your brochure can be translated within a few days, you need another day or so for quality assurance and control.

From damage limitation to smooth success

So, no more project delays, unnecessary stress or wasted time and money. Salvage that poor translation by clarifying the precise issues. Go back to your translation partner with examples of the problem, ask for a free revision, and explain what this translation needs to do.

Next time you need a translation, make sure you get results that impress. Download my Translation Brief now and fill it in before you commission the next project. No hair pulling or stress balls required. And if you’re ready to translate your next piece of work and you’re looking for a specialist in the chemical industry, contact me, the Chemical Translator, today.

*I’ve used the example of brochure throughout but this could easily apply to any type of text.

Old family photographs of holidays and special occasions. Circle like camera lens reads Business Through the Lens

Business Through the Camera Lens

What do you feel when you look at old photos?

I’m talking about the pre-digital age photos. Those slightly fuzzy ones in muted colours your parents took on holidays, trips, and special occasions.

Realistically, you’re looking at a piece of shiny paper with smiling faces or a slightly wonky landscape. Nothing to write home about unless you recognise those faces. Unless that landscape is the scene of your family holiday in 1988 and that image transports you back to the beach. You can taste the salty sea air, hear the seagulls and relive how the wet seaweed felt under your bare feet as you clambered over the rocks to find crabs and mussels. You remember how proud you felt creating the biggest hole on the beach as you dug deep to try and get to Australia… er, maybe that was just me?

Even those black-and-white photos of your not-too-distant ancestors make you feel something though it becomes harder to forge a connection. I’ve got a photo of my great-great-grandmother dressed up in her Victorian finery. Though we never met, I can just about find a family likeness. I imagine little Flora (my Grandma) going to visit her grandmother and playing in the garden with her cousins. There’s a connection but you have to work harder to create the meaning.

Show my photos to someone else and they’ll see a bunch of semi-smiling strangers. There’s no connection there at all.

An image only delivers emotional impact if you know the stories and the people behind it. And don’t think you can rule out emotional impact in business. That’s the extra step most people don’t take that will bring you unsolicited business.

How to deliver emotional impact in your marketing   

It’s the stories you can tell. Most people know they have to make their marketing relatable. For instance, you’d do better talking about what a machine can do for your clients rather than its technical specifications.

If you know the people that work on that machinery though, you can forge an emotional connection. The connection becomes greater if you know the stories and feelings of those other clients. People like you who use that machinery, what they use it for, how relieved they were to find a solution, and how much time it saves them so they can go home and play with their children. Whatever it is that your clients want, if you can find examples of people who have achieved that directly as a result of working with you, and you use those stories as part of your marketing… click! Capture that on your marketing camera right away.

That’s how you create an emotional connection in business, through people and their concerns, hopes, and desires. Even if your business is chemical additives.

Look at what your products do, then look at how your clients use them. Why does your product or service help them achieve their goals and how do you make it easy?

Cultural considerations

This might be different for your British clients. People are people the world over but there are subtle differences related to culture and language that mean you need to adjust your marketing.

If a British person hears a German client talking about how his life is so much easier now, he even gets to squeeze in a game of handball after work, they will attach some positive meaning. It’s clear the product or service improves efficiency. However, because we don’t play handball in Britain, the message loses a tiny bit of impact. They might think well that’s good for them but it’s different for us. And it isn’t different but that’s their perception and they’re entitled to it.

One advantage of using a native speaker is that you get suggestions on what you’re saying as well as how you say it. If I think something won’t work for the British market, I’ll let you know and come up with an alternative.

I’ll take your memory-packed holiday snap and replicate it so it could happily slot into a British photo album and evoke the same feelings.

Your holiday may be over but we’ve got business memories to make!

Analysing your English under the microscope

Improving Your English – A Lot Less Painful Than the Dentist

It took a while to register what she was saying.

Me? I need a filling?

I know, I know, people get dental fillings every day. It’s a routine procedure but I’ve managed until the grand age of 38 without any and I don’t want to start now.
For years I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by five star dental check-ups. One particular dentist I remember scratching his head in confusion and saying my teeth were virtually indestructible. Well, neither he or I reckoned on my wisdom teeth.

My wisdom is leaking out… and needs to be repaired! I can already attribute one bad decision I’ve made this week to my leaking wisdom.

Now, I’m not in any pain, there was no obvious warning but if left alone the decay could reach the nerve and cause major problems. An X-ray highlighted the issue and it makes sense to go ahead before it starts causing me pain. Nobody wants to suffer.

Often, you’re oblivious to the problem until it’s too late. Then the real pain sets in and you’ve got a major headache to deal with. It’s the same with your business.

You’ve poured tens of thousands of euros into launching your products to a new market. Your website pages are all shiny and new, sparkling with the promise of future sales. Your product brochures are freshly printed, technical datasheets translated, you’re all set. And yet you’re not getting the response you got when you launched elsewhere.  What’s going on?

If you’ve covered the essentials – your market research is solid, you know there’s a demand for your product, and your marketing and sales colleagues are driving traffic to your website – could it be the English?

Premium products need premium marketing. And that includes the quality of your English.

Take a look at your English and consider if any of these issues could be slowing down the number of enquiries you’re getting:

  • The wording is slightly off and feels foreign. The odd incorrect word choice and grammar issue can make the text stand out for all the wrong reasons.
  • The English is a direct translation of the German. If there are cultural references, your reader might not grasp the concept. The word play probably won’t work and could sound bizarre.
  • You see a slight smile on the faces of your British business partners when you hand over the product brochures. They’ve spotted something that doesn’t quite work in their language but it’s not their job to point this out and would be impolite to tell you.
  • Maybe your new target buyer doesn’t face the same problems your regular clients have. They may have a slightly different set-up and you’ve created a product or service that they think doesn’t help achieve their objectives. (It most likely does but you need a different angle).
  • You can’t put your finger on it but now you’re reading the text again, there’s that niggling feeling that something isn’t right. As a result, you don’t promote it with 100% confidence and your buyers notice.

Just as with early dental decay, there’s no immediate pain. Only a specialist can identify the issue and suggest preventative treatment to nip things in the bud.

That’s why I offer my English Under the Microscope service.

What do you get?

You’ll get a native Brit’s honest perspective on your message, suggestions for improving your English to appeal to your target market and native speakers. I’ll also highlight what’s working for reassurance so you can be fully confident when you market your products internationally.

All created as a screencast video with a written report to share with your colleagues and start working through.

What’s more, the investment of £97 or €113 + VAT is fully redeemable against any work booked with me in the following six months.

It’s a quick way to gain reassurance and take preventative action to fix any issues in your English that are stopping you achieve your sales targets. And a lot less painful than the dentist.

Put your English Under the Microscope here.