Writing for an international audience: Don’t insult your users’ pocketbooks


General Motors kept the Nova name on the Nova automobile when they began selling it in Mexico; they didn’t realize it meant “it doesn’t go” or “it doesn’t run” in Spanish.


Your customers will buy from your competitors.

  • Use translators who are native speakers of the target language. If you have to cut corners, at least have native speakers review the translations before they get published.
  • Ask at least one person who is currently (or very recently) living in the target country to review your material.
Quick quiz

Question: Why are examples 1 and 2 (below) somewhat charming, and example 3 bothersome?

Example 1 (from a Tokyo hotel): “Is it forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such a thing please not to read notis.”

Example 2 (on the menu of a Swiss restaurant): “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.”

Example 3 (in a computer hardware manual): “To clear CMOS setup memory, if there has been any inappropriate operation incurring the system is failure. !!NOTE!! Each Bank can be installed and worked individually,  the mainboard provide optimal performance and freely choices depended on your needed.”

Answer: Because we paid good money for that piece of hardware, and we expect to get documentation we can understand!

Linguistic analysis, data annotation and enrichment, writing, editing