Accurate translations are vital for fostering effective communication and promoting cultural understanding in our globalized world.  However, poor translation can have a number of negative consequences, including:

  • Lost sales and opportunities
  • Reputational damage
  • Legal liability

Today, we explore the financial & non-financial implications of inaccurate translations.

Economic Impact

Inaccurate translations can lead to costly misunderstandings and errors in business dealings, resulting in lost opportunities and damaged reputations. Localization is essential for companies seeking to penetrate foreign markets successfully. While basic machine translation can be cost-effective, it may only sometimes capture context and cultural nuances accurately.

For example, HSBC underwent a rebranding campaign in 2009. Their new tagline in English was "Assume Nothing". However, when translated into other languages, it came across as "Do Nothing" - an ineffective call to action that ends up confusing more customers than helping. This may come across as slightly comical, but the punchline is that this error cost the bank $10 million to fix.

Furthermore, inaccurate translations in legal documents, contracts, or patents can have severe legal ramifications. Even a minor mistranslation could alter the intended meaning, leading to disputes and litigation.


In 2016, the Japanese automaker Toyota recalled over 3 million vehicles due to a translation error in the owner's manual. The error caused the manual to incorrectly state the procedure for replacing the brake fluid reservoir cap. This could have led to brake failure and accidents.

In 2017, the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA was forced to recall over 100,000 dressers after they were linked to several deaths and injuries. The dressers could tip over if they were not properly anchored to the wall. IKEA later admitted that the dresser assembly instructions were not clear and contained several translation errors.

In industries such as healthcare and technology, translation errors can jeopardize patient safety or cause technical malfunctions. Precise translation of medical prescriptions, product manuals, or engineering specifications ensures safety and efficacy.

For example, a hospital in Florida mistranslated “intoxicado” as “intoxicated” rather than “poisoned.” This caused a delay in a patient receiving the correct treatment, and resulted in brain damage that made him quadriplegic. When the case was settled in court, the settlement was $71 million.

Branding and SEO

Poor or inaccurate translation can also impact not only the perception of your brand, but also it's ranking in search engines. 

For example, if your website has used generic translation tools to blindly translate a page, your results may return subpar, lacking nuance and not localized to fit its market. Users who actually speak the language then leave the page quickly as a poorly translated page reflects as almost useless. And as a result, if the bounce rate for your webpage is high, this then tells search engines that your page or website isn't worth reading. 

Ultimately impacting your brand's visibility, reducing the opportunities for sales or growth.

Trade-offs in Balancing Different Factors

Achieving accurate translations often involves trade-offs between cost, speed, and precision. Some basic machine translations are quick and cost-effective but need more context and cultural awareness. On the other hand, human translations ensure higher accuracy but may be time-consuming and expensive. A balanced approach might involve machine translations for initial understanding and human editing for refinement.

Considering the Broader Impact

The impact of inaccurate translations goes beyond financial losses. It can strain cultural relationships, misrepresent ideas and values, and hinder cross-cultural collaboration. A mistranslation in international diplomacy, for instance, could sour diplomatic relations. 

Bad translations can have a number of serious consequences for businesses, including lost sales and opportunities, reputational damage, and legal liability. 

The hidden cost of inaccurate translations is a multifaceted issue with significant implications. Balancing factors like cost, speed, and precision requires careful consideration, and each approach has challenges. To mitigate the hidden costs, organizations should invest in human expertise, leverage advanced translation technologies, and foster a culture of cross-cultural understanding.

By choosing LanguageLine as your language services provider, your organization immediately benefits from accurate translations, industry expertise, and cultural nuance. This immediately enhances the product or services you provide. 

We invite you to visit our website and schedule a free consultation so that we can learn more about the opportunities that lie within your organization. 

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