Lost in Translation

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Big launch events are exciting.

In the run up to Windows 7, I worked on a keynote for a Japanese consumer electronics expo. As is often the case, there was not much lead time. Still, the keynote team made the time to have the slides translated into Japanese.

I was pretty pleased with the level of cultural sensitivity we were showing, and more than a little smug about it. Yet when we landed in Tokyo our work wasn’t greeted with the excitement we had expected.

The local execs explained that we had gotten the words right, but some things just sounded cooler in English.

Luckily, slides are easy to edit and we had a few hours to sit down with the local experts before taking the stage. For a fast moving industry like consumer electronics, there was no way we could have done this right without their help.

While showing up and expecting everyone to understand English would have been worse, I learned translation is really just the first step if you really want to nail your message.

So the next time you find yourself working across time zones and across cultures don’t go it alone.  The number one rule is to identify local contacts you trust to review your content ahead of time. If you’re able to make them a full part of the team from the beginning – all the better. There will doubtless be logistical challenges, but the time this tight integration will save you in the long run is more than worth it.

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Peter McKiernan
peter@zumcom.com

Director | Peter@zumcom.com