What does it say about your company if you cut corners on internal comms translation?

Nowadays, more than ever, embracing diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace is crucial for modern companies and organisations.

In any team, it’s essential that everyone feels a part of it, that they have an important and valued role to play. That’s the underlying philosophy of inclusivity — no one marginalised or left out. One of the main reasons we translate internal comms into different languages in the first place is to ensure effective communication and because we want the recipient to know that we care. So, are your comms contributing to an inclusive and caring workplace, or could they be having the opposite effect entirely?

What will your global workforce feel about you if you cut corners?

Have you ever accidentally called someone by the wrong name? Or asked about someone’s partner or job, forgetting that their situation has changed? Embarrassing gaffes like these, whilst not intentional, give the impression that the person you are talking to is not front of mind and therefore not a priority for you. Such thoughtlessness can often cause offence and hurt. Unfortunately, the same is true when it comes to translating internal comms into other languages.

Sloppy translation at best looks unprofessional, but at worst can be offensive and alienating for speakers of other languages. The pitfalls go way beyond simple grammatical or spelling mistakes. Subtle nuances in tone, humour or cultural context are difficult to get right without expert help, and can all too easily create the impression of tokenism (that you want to appear diverse and inclusive, but aren’t fully committed to making it happen). The lesson here is, if you are going to go to the trouble of communicating with your global company workforce in different languages, make sure you do it well and avoid costly blunders.

Of course, we have all come across poor translations and sometimes they even make us laugh. The comical mistranslation of a dish on a holiday menu, or a sign at an airport — these are instantly forgiven because of the context. But it’s a different matter when it comes from your employer. Worst case scenario is that the offending translation means something completely different from what was intended, even something rude or insulting. However, a simple and obvious grammatical mistake can still have serious negative repercussions. Surely they could have taken the time to get that right? Or don’t they really care enough about me? Ultimately, when employees don’t feel that they are truly valued in an organisation, they will leave.

Beware of taking shortcuts

How do these unintended mistranslations creep into your internal communications in the first place anyway? More often than not, it comes down to cutting corners and scrimping on time and money. Perhaps unfairly, machine translation is often singled out as the chief culprit. Using artificial intelligence to translate copy has numerous benefits, being generally quicker and cheaper, and without doubt has its place in many translation scenarios. The problems can generally arise when raw machine translation is not augmented by a human professional — this additional human layer is absolutely essential in ensuring that the translation is both correct and brand-aligned. With something as important as internal comms for your global team, it is a false economy to miss out the vital human touch.

Now you’re speaking my language

Of course, humans can get things wrong too, especially when it comes to cultural sensitivity and humour. The cultural context of communications varies significantly from country to country. What resonates in France can make no sense at all in neighbouring Germany. A side-splitting joke in Japan can quite easily result in tumbleweed in the United States. Again, these cultural clangers can be avoided simply by taking the trouble to involve local teams and translation professionals from the very beginning and incorporating culture into the translation process. The key take-out? Sadly, there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to language — avoid standardisation and embrace localisation!

Creating an inclusive workplace experience leads to a happy, productive, and loyal team

The pitfalls of getting it wrong are painfully plain to see, but it’s not all about steering clear of the costly errors. There are positive benefits to striking the right chord too. To hark back to the previous example from social situations, when someone you have only met fleetingly before remembers your name, or a detail from your life that you briefly shared, it makes you feel special and valued. And so it is with your internal communications. Not making mistakes is one thing, a no-brainer if you like, but the thoughtful use of appropriate cultural references, idioms or even humour all contributes to employees feeling engaged and valued.

In turn, being genuinely inclusive in this way can help lead to improved employee motivation, loyalty and brand ambassadorship. It’s a small investment that can deliver major dividends for your organisation.

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