Lost in Translation, Languages Barriers

Language barriers can be a massive issue with global marketing as one word may mean a good thing in English, but translated to another language, and you’ve just upset half a country. A language barrier is basically ‘barrier to communication resulting from speaking different languages’ (Dictionary, 2013) which leads to a lost in translation. There are many examples of this happening to multiple companies, one of them would be General Motors when they introduced the Vauxhall Nova to Spain. However, they didn’t expect that Nova translates to ‘No go / it won’t go’ (Hollensen, 2004) which isn’t the greatest start to selling a car, they later renamed it and it finally lifted off. Another lost in translation episode was with Parker Pens, the slogan; Avoid Embarrassment – use Parker Pens, ‘They thought the Spanish word “embarazar” meant embarrass.’ (Suggett, 2013) However it didn’t and it translated to ‘Avoid Pregnancy – Use Parker Pens’.

All of these mistakes could of been avoided through a lot of research and planning, but sometimes it just gets over looked. Here’s a final example of Coca Cola when it first marketed in the 1920s in China, after trying to group some Chinese letters together in order to form a word sounding like Coca Cola, it went wrong, and sounded more like ‘bite the wax tadpole’,(Kotler et al. 2009) which doesn’t sound much like a refreshing beverage. After searching through 40,000 Mandarin letters and words, eventually they managed to get it to sound like, ‘to allow the mouth to be able to rejoice.’, which of course lead to a rise in sales.


Dictionary. 2006, Language Barrier, [online] [viewed 24/01/2013] Available from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/language+barrier

Dialaphone. 2011, Lost in Translation. [online] [viewed 24/01/2013] Available from: http://www.dialaphone.co.uk/blog/2011/10/15/lost-in-translation-advertising-translation-fails/

Kotler, P. Armstrong, G. 2009. Principles of Marketing. [online] [viewed 24/01/2013] Available from: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ZW2u5LOmbs4C&pg=PA597&lpg=PA597&dq=language+barrier+coca+cola+examples&source=bl&ots=BX-ou9Zfpj&sig=4pgH6D5tJpHS_hlbpNiUXp6Isio&hl=en&sa=X&ei=W3sBUafZOKHL0QXwqIGQDQ&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

Funnypart, 2013, [online] [24/01/2013] Available from: http://www.funnypart.com/funny/lost-in-translation.shtml