Translating Your Brand Messaging

It’s really endearing to hear the English-language foibles made by my Spanish husband, the charm of which sometimes keeps me from correcting him.

“Meryl Eh-streep went to jail,” he said to our friends one evening at a dinner party.

“What? She went to jail??”

We native English speakers dropped our forks in disbelief .

(He was trying to say that our beloved Meryl Eh-streep went to Yale.)

And then there’s the classic mistake frequently made by Spanish natives, “people is,” as in “people is dying of the heat this summer.” (“People” is singular in Spanish.) Or the crazy fun of English prepositions, such as “I’m at bed” or “I arrived to London.”

English is the business language of the world

But regardless of these difficulties, for better or worse, English is the language of business in a big chunk of the world. I frequently apologize for the idiosyncrasies and nonsensical inconsistencies of my mother tongue here in Spain. It’s an incredibly easy language to start using, but no doubt very difficult to master. Think of the phonetic differences between “rough,” “through,” and “though” or “plaid,” “said,” and “laid.” Or how a preposition added to a verb radically changes the verb’s meaning: “get over,” “get on,” “get into,” “get at,” “get up.” No wonder these phrasal verbs strike terror in the heart of every Romance language speaker trying to communicate in English. I think the only thing harder than learning phrasal verbs is teaching them.

When speaking to foreign business leaders that have excellent English skills, it’s still difficult to express what Wordsmithie does, and what I do in particular. Sometimes it’s just easier for me to boil it down to “I’m a writer.” Forget creative direction, content strategy, helping brands find their voice and or that I played the lead in Fiddler on the Roof in high school. I write copy. And often the response to that is, “Is that a real job?” or worse, “Why would I pay for that?”

Funny translations

Just today as I was tooling about Madrid, I snapped these photos in front of a couple of mom-and-pop establishments. The almost-accurate signage is certainly comprehensible to any English speaker who ambles past, and indeed, the quirky syntax lends some Old World charm. A tourist can feel as though she or he will get what they paid for by patronizing one of these places — an authentic slice of Spanish life, not mass-produced, frozen-then-nuked paella out of a factory in Perth Amboy.

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Next are some examples, not of mom-and-pop tapas bars, but established European companies serving a global audience. Like the pictures above, any English speaker would understand their meaning — though the syntax is off in the first picture and the incorrect tense is used in the second. But we’re not ordering sangria and jamón in Plaza Mayor here. One of these companies has to get me and my luggage safely to a destination half-way around the world. And the other will presumably ask a small fortune to design and build a dream vacation home.

language shots Wordsmithie Iberia English Wordsmithie

At best for these two brands, the slight lack of attention to detail gives the reader cause to chuckle. But more seriously, not taking the extra effort to make sure the messages are meticulous can cast a poor reflection — one that goes counter to building trust and reassurance that are critical to their business.

translations aren’t funny anymore…

So, I guess that is what I do. I help brands build trust and confidence (with a little sassy humor if the brand lets me get away with it). I’m the devil in the details. That’s one of the values Wordsmithie brings to the table for its long list of Silicon Valley clients, and brands in places as far-flung as Mumbai, Singapore, London and here on Gran Vía in Madrid.

If the success of your idea, app, service, or product depends on reaching and resonating with an English-speaking audience, Wordsmithie can help you communicate in a way that will make your brand shine, and most importantly, get you to be taken seriously.

And if your idea needs to sparkle in other cultures, Wordsmithie has renowned translation and transcreation partners that can craft your message in just about any language.

When it comes to your brand messaging abroad, do you “care enough to send the very best?” (Thanks, Hallmark!)

Michael Gaylord

Prior to moving to Madrid in 2011, Michael served as Vice President, Digital for MTV Networks’ cable brands Nick at Nite and TV Land. He began his career in the digital shops of downtown Manhattan, and has extensive experience in creative direction, user experience, convergent programming, integrated marketing and web analytics.

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