Blog Avoiding Engrish: Why online translation apps don’t always work

Posted by Kerry Vallins on March 8, 2018

One of the most beautiful, inspiring factors of working in the voice over industry is how, with hard work and due diligence, we can create some truly outstanding pieces of work that break down the language barrier, delivering powerful messages that connect people whether it’s a brand looking to grow in a foreign territory, a public service looking to make inroads in certain communities and much more.

Those who do work in the online voice over trade though have a natural foe. Its name is bad translation, and we believe it’s the absolute antithesis of everything great communications stand for. You’ve probably heard of ‘Engrish’ before; bad translation with broken, confusing meaning or even unintentional comedy value. This phenomenon is replicated in other languages of course, and it benefits nobody. Those the message is aimed at can find it perplexing, confusing and even funny, while the brand looks like it hasn’t tried. So, why do it?

Avoid the pitfalls of bad translation with a Professional online voice over

To be clear, we’re absolutely not picking on those people who are learning a new language and working hard to enter a new market where a couple of ‘off-phrases’ may have slipped into the copy. Rather, our focus is on those who lazily enter their marketing copy into a translation ‘bot and expect perfection to come out on the other side.

Free services like Google Translate come to mind.  Despite the sheer size of Google, and it’s incredible data-harvesting advancement, its translation services are still  bad. There are also numerous other online translation softwares equally bad; simply enter some text and get a “final” translation.

Don’t get me wrong, these tools are GOOD for a quick at-a-glance indication of what a foreign text may be loosely about, or GREAT to convert a non-Latin-alphabet-language (such as Chinese characters) into English so that a word-count (and hence an approximate audio-length calculation) can be performed.  But as a professional translation tool…?!

Despite this, you’d be amazed at the number of project managers in large, reputable firms who have had their Google ‘Kool-Aid’ bubble burst when a native speaker tells them their Google-translated script makes no sense!

Ironically, the free online  translation apps, although useful for quick reference, ironically represent a strong  argument for proper, professional, or ‘human’ translation, as part of a real voice over service.

Though AI and machines are getting better, they’re a looonnng still many years off the straight-forward “meaning” requirements.  Once they eventually get there, how will they then master the grace, beauty, expression and subtle nuances of real language spoken by a real human voice? That’s a subject for another day.

Reach out to new markets with an international voice over campaign

A professional voice over agency that offers scripting and translation services can provide not only an accurate translation service, but through understanding the languages and dialects used within specific international territories, can also better get messages across in a ‘local’ and human way, and pique the interests of the clients who matter to you most.

Take Pickle’s critique of a South Korean infomercial for instance, from a company called Rochien. Their ad features phrases such as “Isn’t there the method to solve?” and “They are in a mess again even though you organized them hard.”

The original ad was posted on Reddit and has been picked up by Pickle and other outlets, who comment that it gives them ‘a bit of a headache’, (and worse!).

Not only can poor translation or put off your target audience, but as Rochien is discovering, it can also make you look silly. Was damaging its international brand by cutting little corners in the translation process worth it?!

You can get better results by working with a specialist voice over agency that speaks your language. Voice Talent Online has access to 1,500 voice talents in more than 75 languages. Contact us today to find out more.


Leave a Comment