Why can't Asian businesses marketing to the U.S. get their English translations right?

We have all seen, I think, what a nightmare of incomprehensibility (I almost said “gobbledygook”, LOL) most owners’ manuals are for any electronic product made in East Asia (especially China or South Korea; Japanese stuff is better). Same for menus and signage at Chinese restaurants. Sometimes even the very name of the restaurant is unfortunate, to say the least.

But the proximal cause of this rant is my new Bluetooth headphones, which are otherwise pretty cool. They have good sound and are comfortable. They use computer generated speech to provide feedback to your actions like “power on”, “pairing”, etc. And just a bit ago they started warning me they needed to be charged…by repeatedly saying “Please charging”. Seriously? WTF, these things cost me almost two hundred bucks, and the company can’t be bothered to check their grammar? C’mon, people.

Is it pure ignorance, that they have no idea they might be messing up their translations? Or pure arrogance: they don’t care? It would be so easy to get an English speaker to copy edit for them. They don’t need someone with a master’s in English or linguistics, just an average person who can tell them if they are making sense or just spouting word salad.

Something I honestly don’t know: is it the same deal in the other direction? Do American businesses trying to sell to the huge market in China drop the ball this badly? And if so, do the Chinese care?

At times it seems that it has to deliberate, to provide the quaintness Americans except out of their Chinese imports.

Probably some of them have an employee that thinks he/she knows enough English so they do it in-house. Others may hire a cheap translator that claims fluency, but get what they pay for. Or use machine translation. In all cases, if nobody involved knows English well enough to avoid the mistakes, nobody involved knows English well enough to catch them.

I think that may be some of it: at the local Chinese buffet they had a paper attached to the Mongolian BBQ stand written in poor grammar and it was replaced with a shiny new one after a few years using the same grammatical/syntax mistakes. Unless of course no one told them of the misspelling, but I think the “quaintness” factor is likely as well.

With restaurants I suspect some of the humorous names are quite deliberate. It’s an easy way to gain recognition.

Cost. They go with a cheaper translation and figure it’s good enough.

Seems to me that just as so many things are outsourced from the U.S. to Asian factories and call centers, these companies could outsource to a U.S. firm. For long technical translations, okay: it could get expensive (although it’s still worth doing). But you could have one dude sitting at a computer (or even checking his phone) to handle all the short ones. “Should we name our restaurant POO PING?” “No.” “Does ‘please charging’ sound okay?” “No, make it ‘please charge’ or ‘needs charging’.” Each short query costs five or ten bucks, everyone comes out ahead.

I think the question is, AFTER they translate the sign or whatever, why don’t they have a native English speaker look at the translation to see if it sounds correct. In the example in the OP, they could have a native English speaker listen to the words after they have been translated, and would notice almost immediately that “Please charging” is not correct.

Would you have bought another set of headphones or paid more for this one if that was the only way to get one that used proper grammar? If not, there’s your answer. It’s not yet costing them any sales and saving them money by going cheap.

You guys know about http://www.engrish.com, right?

Too funny!

In fact, some of the restaurant names are probably invented by people who speak English as their first and only language, just coming up with something that deliberately looks naughty but “sounds Chinese”.

But he didn’t know!

It wasn’t like there were two equally-good sets that the only difference was one had good grammar and one had Chinelish, and the good grammar cost ten bucks more. There was no way to make a choice. You don’t know until it’s home.

But come on, there’s tons of ex-pats living overseas. Talk about easy money - find somebody living there who is a native US person, and pay them $100 bucks to proof your English. Or a thousand bucks. It still isn’t going to up the cost per unit at all.

I see it in owner’s manuals all the time. Obvious mistakes that you could have prevented by running it past a kid walking out of the American School on embassy row. There’s no legitimate excuse. Heck, email them to me and I’ll do it for free, because I’m tired of reading that crap.

Right? It’s annoying. And it comes across as either incompetent–which is not what you want in someone making your food or your electronics–or contemptuous, which makes me not want to give them my money.

It is always a good idea to independently verify translations, but that doubles the cost. Cheaper to get it professionally translated only once and then try the result on a native speaker, but how likely is it there just happens to be a native speaker in that particular department in a random corporation in a random country?

Typical mishap

ETA: of course the results are completely unprofessional, inexcusable, and completely avoidable. It says something about corporate culture and responsibility that such mistakes are so much in evidence.

I had a situation like this many years ago with a Japanese vendor. The issue was poor talent but excess pride combined with a fear of contradicting the prideful boss:


I agree that it ups the cost. And the OP does have a choice, he could return the headphones and write to the company why he returned them. Keeping them just shows that correct translations aren’t needed.

I vacation in Thailand, and there are all kinds of signs with English misspellings that no one corrects, because it’s not important. Nobody doesn’t go to a place just because they have a bad translation or misspelling.

Hell, there is a sign in the barbershop on Andrews AFB that is misspelled, and they don’t ever change it :slight_smile:

I see what you did there.

That one dude? The cheapest ones are Chinese farmers. They sell themselves as translators, they may even have degrees in translation, but they use google translate if you’re lucky. And the same crap translations are seen into every other language, and not just for products from China.

Because having one guy translate it, and then call in another guy to double check his work and possibly correct mistakes, would cause the first guy to lose face. Obviously that is not going to happen.

Of course he’s not going to return them because of this. But presumably these headphones have a brand. That brand now has associations in his head of ‘cheapness’ and ‘unfinished product’ and ‘shoddy work.’ So maybe he’ll need new headphones in a few years, and choose a different brand. Or perhaps that brand will try to expand from headphones into cell phones, and find less market in the US because of their brand association. You don’t see Sony or Samsung making these kinds of errors.