Five industries that can’t accept translation mistakes

Published on April 21st, 2016

Normally, when we talk about translation mistakes the conversation revolves around marketing blunders from global brands. Mistakes like these can cost firms millions and damage their brand image – neither of which your business wants to be associated with.

For some industries though, the translation process starts long before marketing their products. These are industries where translation mistakes simply are not an option. We’re not talking about embarrassing slogans or failed product launches here; mistakes in these industries can cost people’s lives and cripple firms with lawsuits.

Translation mistakes

Here are five industries that can’t accept translation mistakes:


All the industries we’re looking at today are vulnerable to messy lawsuits if translation mistakes breach a firm’s duty of care. Funnily enough, one of the most vulnerable of these industries is the legal sector itself – and it’s also one of the most challenging to translate for.

Translation mistakes in legal documents can void contracts, bring court cases to a halt and cause a plethora of legal ramifications. Interpretation errors in the courtroom can lead to mistrials, preventing the course of justice.


In 1980, a bilingual staff member at one Florida hospital translated the Spanish word “intoxicado” as “intoxicated” – a common translation error. However, doctors’ assumptions that Willie Ramirez had taken an overdose, when he was actually suffering from a stroke, rendered the 18 year old quadriplegic. That simple, one-word translation error ruined a young man’s life and cost the hospital $71 million.

Mistranslations in patient diagnoses, medication guidelines or documentation for medical machinery put people’s lives at risk. There is no room for translation errors in medical industries.


The construction industry is a complex sector that overlaps with many others. Projects start with planning, designing, obtaining legal permissions, financial planning and various other tasks before construction even begins.

This becomes more complex in modern construction, where international brands, architects, investors and labourers can come from any combination of countries and languages. From the first legal contracts and blueprints, down to the health and safety guidelines followed on site, translation needs to be flawless at every stage. Mistakes can cost millions, put workers’ lives at risk or even put the general public at risk after completion.


The automotive industry is much like construction in terms of its complexity. Once again, designers, engineers, safety technicians and line workers can all come from different corners of the world. The end product will also be shipped to worldwide markets. Throughout the manufacturing process, strict guidelines have to be understood and followed by everyone to ensure each car is built to the highest quality and safety standards.

Translation in the automotive industry has become particularly diverse over the last decade, though. The growth of user interfaces in cars – like GPS and safety warning systems – opens new translation and localisation challenges for platforms designed to be used while people are driving their cars.


Retail may not be the most obvious industry to make our list, but this sector has become highly vulnerable to translation mistakes over the last 15 years. The rise of global commerce and new consumer nations in developing parts of the world has made retail multilingual.

This is especially true for sectors like consumer electronics. Smartphones, games consoles, music players, TVs and countless other devices have become an everyday presence in lives around the world. Each of these needs clear safety instructions, down to the absolute basics – like warning when users are about to turn their headphone volume above a safe level. If you get that translation (or any of your safety warnings) wrong, you could have one of those costly court cases on your hands.

Translation mistakes aren’t acceptable in any industry but as you can see from some of the examples, the severity of the mistakes can differ greatly. As soon as safety or other legal obligations become a factor, translation errors become more than a costly marketing mistake. Avoiding these risks isn’t something you can opt in or out of: it’s part of your legal obligation to look after the best interests of your employees and customers.

At translate plus, we take translation quality very seriously and our quality assurance process is top notch. We’re proud to have achieved ISO 17100 certification, which means our core processes, resources, and other aspects necessary for the delivery of a quality translation service meets applicable industry specifications. If you have any questions about how we approach quality assurance or would like to find out if we can help with your next project, get in touch and someone will get back to you right away.

Posted on: April 21st, 2016