Bloopers #5

If you are new to Auerbach International, we provide business-expansion tips about language or global marketing issues once or twice a month. And when we don’t examine issues in-depth, we are pleased to brighten your day with humorous Bloopers from other languages or countries such as the one above.

Even other English-speaking countries are not immune to statements that have wrong word usage, misspellings and whose logic does not quite flow properly. If you are targeting other countries that speak your same language, be sure to ask your language service to evaluate your message, or to evaluate your new venture or new product name. Language professionals often can foresee issues that you may be unaware of … and that can damage your message, budget or reputation. Consulting your language service is very minor insurance against very big potential gaffes.

Useful tip

When corporate videos go from English into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, sometimes Japanese and other languages, the required words will expand by about 10-20%. Does your video have fixed time limits such as exactly 30 minutes? If so, where will the expanded words go? Your translation service can provide solutions. And if you know in advance that your video will go abroad, be sure to consult your language localization service before you produce it.


  • Is accuracy not essential on your next translation project?
  • Is your project for in-house use only?
  • Is getting the gist sufficient for your needs?
  • Is your text not technical?

If so, our PET store is for you. Personal Express Translations are a low-cost alternative to professional-level linguists. This is ideal for many kinds of reports, letters, basic e-books, very simple websites, etc. Using qualified and tested but non-professional translators, our PET process can generally translate your file into the most common languages for around USD .085/word + a small Admin fee. Contact us to find out how.

Bloopers #4

Whether in websites, mobile apps or ads, even if you are targeting another English-speaking country, national usage can differ from yours. In Britain and South Africa, the above ad makes perfect sense. But in the US, the wording has a slightly different meaning. Be sure to ask your translation service to verify your message for the target country, even if you think it speaks the “same” language as you. Whether you are translating…

  • French for France or Canada;
  • Portuguese for Portugal or Brazil;
  • English for the UK, Australia, Anglophone Africa or the US;
  • Spanish for Spain, Mexico, Colombia or Argentina;
  • Chinese for China, Hong Kong or Taiwan …

word usage, pronouns and sentence structure can vary by country. You seek to be understood, not ridiculed, with your message.


Our new mobile app carries special offers. Please download it at the Apple app store or on the Google play store. Simply type “Auerbach” in a search at either store and we come right up!

Need to create your own mobile app? By special arrangement for our own clients and prospects, our high-level technology partner can do it for you at half off for a limited time. Just contact us for a referral. And get your own app localized in any language to target your own global audience.

Useful Tip:

Many firms assume that an ad wording or brochure format from home will work abroad. But if your text is very tight on the page, it will not fit when it is prepared in French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Those languages require about 20% more words than English to express the same concept. A professional language service does have ways to make tight translations fit your English layout, if necessary. But a better solution might be to cut out some words entirely and redesign your site or promotion with benefits and images that appeal to the target country.

Branding and Naming: Critical Mistakes

Avoid Naming “Moo”stakes

Your Brand is Worth the Small Investment

Expanding firms at some point launch a product, service or their own company name in another country. And that process can cause huge gaffes if those names or logos are not screened properly in key target cultures. What sounds or looks fine in one country can have very different meanings to others.
For example:

  • When an Israeli soft-drink maker wrote its name in Hebrew, all was fine. The company even writes its English name in foreign markets such as Brazil and Japan where the locals probably don’t see a problem. But when the same English name is viewed by native English speakers, it does not sound very appetizing for soft drinks. After all,  “Calpis” sounds a lot like “bovine urine.”
  • The Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo, which owns US bakeries such as Entenmann’s, Oroweat and Stroehmann, does not sound very professional in American English.
  • The California company Niku Software may be unaware that “Niku” is Japanese for “meat.”
  • The Clairol Mist Stick curling iron did not quite sell as well as expected in Germany. The word “Mist” in German is slang for manure.
  • Colgate introduced its Cue toothpaste in France, unaware that Cue was the also name of a hot French porno magazine.

Professional language agencies can screen groups of proposed names for all destination countries, evaluating, for example, whether:

  1. the pronunciation is easy or hard in each target language;
  2. the sound seems positive, negative or neutral;
  3. the name carries any negative connotation, evoking perhaps a disease, disgraced politician, porn star, gangster or something similar;
  4. the name sounds like the meaning of another word; or whether
  5. the name is slang for something unappealing.

The same principle holds for logos, colors, images and product descriptions; what speaks to one people may speak very differently or not at all to another. For example, a “tampon” is a “pad” in French but that’s not quite the best way to describe the absorbent pads under pre-packaged chickens.

It is also important to evaluate your selected company, brand and product names or your logo in other dialect markets of the same language such as:

  • Canada for French;
  • Mexico and Argentina for Spanish;
  • Switzerland for German;
  • Egypt for Arabic; and
  • Brazil for Portuguese.

English is no exception: an eraser in the US is a rubber in Britain, a fag in Britain is a cigarette in the US, and a robot in both countries is a traffic light in South Africa. If your company name incorporates those products, you could encounter “a spot of bother” abroad.

Chinese poses its own unique issues.  Since the written characters are not phonetic, they can be pronounced in hundreds of different ways, called dialects. The most commonly evaluated dialects for business are Mandarin and Cantonese. And since Mandarin is the official dialect of both China and Taiwan, names and logos should be evaluated for both countries since each has developed its own culture and writes characters differently. Please contact us to learn other considerations in rendering foreign names in China.


To avoid embarrassment and marketing problems, before you launch any name or logo abroad – even in other English-speaking countries – ask your language agency to evaluate each. This is particularly true in Chinese where one must consider the meaning of the name’s characters as well as their sound in various key dialects.

For this minor investment, you become armed with essential knowledge allowing you to decide whether to retain, change or modify your name — or logo — in other countries. It is also a minor price for this major security and peace of mind. After all, what is your name and image worth?

Bloopers #2

Useful TipWhen you are launching a new product, new service or new company, it takes just a small investment in time and money to ensure that the name works overseas. Even if you are not planning to go global now, you probably will later. And why risk your entire investment?

If your name sounds like a disgraced politician or a curse word, what credibility will you have in that country? Ask your language service to check this out for you before you launch.

A large company called Clairol did not. When it introduced Clairol Mist in Germany, it discovered too late that “Mist” is German slang for “manure.” Not very appealing on ladies’ hair.

Have an e-book?

Want to spread your reputation globally as well as domestically? Auerbach International is pleased to announce a new service: Personal Express Translations (PET). For only .085 cents/word (plus a small admin fee), we will translate any non-technical file into all common languages.

Using qualified and tested translators, PET is ideal for e-book authors, personal documents (letters, journals, family histories); articles; simple websites; retail catalogs; social media tweets, blogs and posts; and more. In short, most any file that has no technical terminology and no engineering.


Bloopers #1


Auerbach International is pleased to introduce a new series, Bi-weekly Bloopers, to brighten up your day. These are humorous mistranslations into English done by amateurs or software instead of professional linguists.

Miscommunication can make your entire global venture fail. Your whole investment and reputation are at stake. Why would you risk it?

Post Bloopers to our Facebook Wall

Do you have any Bloopers from travels, news articles, etc.? Please feel free to POST them to our Facebook page so that others can laugh too.  If you don’t have a Facebook account, you can simply email us your name, telephone and blooper.  We hope to publish a collection of bloopers. If your approved blooper is used for publication, we would be happy to pay you for it.

Need to talk to a non-English speaker?

Don’t lose a sale or a vital communication. You can speak to anyone through our telephonic Instant Interpreting service! Only $1.85/minute, 24/7, and 150+ languages and dialects.(more>)

Need a Laugh?: Acculturations and Mistranslations

Need a Laugh?

Acculturations and Mistranslations

A Paris boutique sign announced, “Dresses for Street Walking.”

This small example of a translation into English illustrates three points:

  1. The importance of professional human editing (QA review) by qualified and trained linguists to ensure accuracy.
  2. Reliance on amateurs, non-professionals, or machine translation (software) can render unprofessional and comical results that can damage your reputation and brand.
  3. What may appear acceptable in one country can be offensive in another.



Preparing texts in other languages is more than just rendering concepts. It can also involve acculturation, i.e., preparing your text to ensure that it is appropriate for the target market or audience. Particularly important for websites, this process involves ensuring accuracy for:

  • Colors and images:  Matching the audience — Does your label show a blond woman when you are promoting your shampoo in Asia?
  • Numbers: Having four of something, such as examples or labels, is inappropriate in China, Japan and Korea where the pronunciation of “four” sounds just like the word for “death.”
  • Dates and times: Writing these according to country standards (ex, 8 September 2011 at 16:00 vs. September 8,  2011 at 4 pm).
  • Measurements: Converting English measurements to metrics is essential for most overseas markets. And when writing both, put the metrics first and the English after.
  • Phone numbers: Promoting your US local number abroad since US toll-free numbers mostly do not work from other countries.
  • Currencies: Ensuring that your desired payment methods work in your target country: some countries pay through credit cards, others through mobile phones, while others mainly use cash.
  • Terminology: Avoiding slang and expressions that do not communicate abroad (such as Batting 1000) as well as unclear or regional usage.

Other examples:

  1. Instructions. A client’s requirement to “keep the abbreviations in German” would have resulted in the translation into English, “Time sheets should be submitted to your FUKR.”  It is not our job to determine whether the time sheet receiver really was one. Instead, your language provider should disregard instructions, in this case, to save you from embarrassment by changing the abbreviation to its meaning of “manager.”
  2. Slang usage. Slang can work in both directions. The Spanish word “tambo” can mean a type of basket in Mexico but it is a whorehouse in Argentina.
  3. Headlines. The headline, “No one anywhere does what we do as well as we do it” seems perfectly natural to Americans who are conditioned to promote themselves. But it appears totally arrogant in most other cultures. Your language agency should forewarn you of this pending gaffe and advise on how to rewrite the sentence so that you shine, not decline, in the eyes of your overseas markets.
  4. Regionalisms. The sentence, “The oakie was so babbelassed that he drove his bakkie through a robot and had to organise a panel beater” is acceptable English. In South Africa. In the US, the sentence should read, “The guy was so drunk that he drove his pickup truck through a traffic light and had to take it to a body shop.” How standard or regional are your communications?


What works for one country/audience does not necessarily work for others. Your language provider should be grounded in global marketing to help you avoid problems. While technical texts rarely need changing, promotional documentation and websites may need customized rewrites to ensure relevance to target markets … before translation.

 SUBSCRIBE to the Auerbach YouTube Channel

YouTube Auerbach International Channel

Funny Mistranslations!

What Not to Do in Global Business

What Not to Do in Global Business

Major Brands’ Mistakes Cost Them Dearly Abroad

“Cultural cruise control” remains a prickly pest in global commerce.  What is “cultural cruise control”? Simply put, it’s not modifying your company or individual behaviors for different cultures.

Although translation of a company’s brochures, manuals, contracts and websites is an essential element of global business, a company’s overall marketing strategy is even more important. And just as certain terms may not translate well, your successful marketing approach in the US may not transfer abroad.

In essence, one must study the business practices of the target culture. Forgetting this fact can cost you big bucks or lead to red cheeks.  Some major brands know this story all too well.

Burger King

Burger King’s European campaign for its Texican Whopper became a whopper of a different kind. This ad featured a cowboy and a masked Mexican wrestler (think Jack Black from Nacho Libre) in a uniform eerily similar to the Mexican flag. Abusing a country’s flag is dangerous even for a company like Burger King which pushed the limits of creativity (as well as taste) in its advertising.

Americans frown on desecrating the US flag.  Mexico’s ambassador to Spain found Burger King’s flag commercial equally offensive to his people. Earning official diplomatic protests rather than sales is never a sound marketing strategy, particularly when the offense is amplified from Europe to 100 million potential customers in Mexico via Facebook or Twitter. The European ad with the Mexican flag was quickly changed.

Apple’s iPhone

Steve Jobs had the Midas touch with Apple. He successfully integrated style and functionality into all his products, particularly the iPhone. But the success of Apple’s phone in the US has yet to carry over to China and India. Issues involving the transfer of a sophisticated U.S. brand into developing countries have slowed the Apple express. Apple has successfully built a brand around individuality and elegance that becomes an extension of its users. In addition to the iPhone’s incompatibility with each nation’s wireless infrastructure, Apple was charging near-US prices whereas local consumers were very price conscious shoppers. And perhaps subtly, Apple’s emphasis on the individual smacked against these Asian cultures’ higher regard for the collective and the family.

Best Buy

Best Buy reigns supreme in the US for consumer electronics, but that’s no longer the case in China. In 2011, Best Buy closed all its branded Chinese stores. How could this happen to such a successful US brand?  Because Best Buy failed to localize its marketing. According to a report by the Monitor Group, the company failed to account for significant cultural and retail marketing differences.

First, Best Buy organized its China stores by product category (all TVs, all DVDs, etc. grouped together) whereas Chinese stores group products by brand (similar to designers’ dress boutiques in upscale US department stores). Secondly, similar Chinese store employees work for their respective manufacturers rather than the retailer. Best Buy’s emphasis on store service did not mesh with the priorities of its in-store sales staff. And thirdly, Best Buy’s prices were high to reflect their anticipated service. But Chinese customers focused on product prices that were cheaper elsewhere.

Best Buy hit the copy and paste buttons in China instead of retooling its approach to match the needs of a market with one billion customers. Global marketing at its finest!


Thankfully, Barbie’s relationship with Ken lasted longer than her stay in China where the queen of every American girl’s doll collection had only a two-year reign. The saying “bigger is better” worked for the Beijing Olympics but sadly not for Barbie. Mattel’s Shanghai store had the largest collection of all things Barbie, but that was not enough for success.

Mattel hoped that the sales of some items would pay for losses on others. And the chain positioned Barbie as a luxury purchase with a high price.  However, the Chinese market for dolls was price sensitive and sexy Barbies were no match for cute Hello Kitty products preferred by young Chinese girls.  Meow! In addition, most foreign entrants partner with a local or national Chinese company to learn the country’s traditions, customs and sales approaches. It was unclear whether Mattel had done this … or had heeded the locals’ advice.

Don’t Get Lost in Translation

Successful translation is more than just getting the words right. Language plays two important roles: communicating facts as well as culture. The latter is where Burger King, Apple, Best Buy and Mattel all failed. These successful brands did not realize the essential role that country-specific cultural nuances, familiarities and business practices play in global marketing  — just as they do in successful translation of marketing collateral and websites.

Another way to think about this is dieting. While Americans tend to overeat, in cross-cultural environments we should think and act as if we’re on a diet. Strict regimens force us to monitor our own behavior. The same holds true when marketing to populations in different countries.

These mistakes were no doubt costly on several fronts including revenue, branding and public relations.  What’s important to remember is that they were completely avoidable.


Whether you are a Fortune 500 or a small entrepreneurial firm venturing abroad for the first time, the same lessons apply: what works in one market probably will not work in another. It is essential to hire consultants or experts who know your host-country business practices, culture, laws, HR traditions, accounting systems, etc. for your product or service, and can advise on pricing alternatives, payment methods, product (re)design, advertising, sales channels, negotiation strategies, and successful approaches tailored to each country.