Translation Services – An Insight into the History and Importance of the Profession

Translation Services – An Insight into the History and Importance of the Profession

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we have reached peak globalisation as a species. Individuals from incredibly different backgrounds from all over the globe regularly interact with one another in both the digital and physical space. But this begs the question; how do we get over the language barrier?


We at the IL Consultancy, an accredited translation services agency based in South Africa, agree that work such as ours is what allows people from different cultures to communicate without speaking each other’s respective languages. Thanks to the hard work of those in the translation industry, we are able to effectively communicate with others without having to speak their native languages.

This affords us numerous benefits as a society, especially where cultural exchange, diplomacy, and business are concerned. In terms of cultural exchange, translating a text or audio that is written or spoken in a particular language allows any parting information to be ingested by individuals from different parts of the world. Media is a great example of how translation benefits cultural exchange.

The internationally lauded film, Parasite (Joon-ho, 2019), was able to gain global acclaim in part due to it being translated into the languages of every country wherein there was a potential target market audience. The translating of books, both fiction and non-fiction, has also allowed for a massive diffusion of memetics across the world. Through translation, philosophies and ideas have spread globally which has greatly influenced our global culture.

With regards to diplomacy, translation services assist global leaders in communicating with each other. Effective communication between governments has opened up many doors in terms of geopolitical relationships. For the further betterment of the global village, translation also equips businesses with the ability to operate globally.

This allows companies to access markets outside of their local reach. It also helps international companies to interact and conduct business with one another which offer many advantages to global trade relations. Having reviewed all of the aforementioned information, one could make a compelling argument that translation is an essential global service. If you are interested in learning more about this industry, you might enjoy the rest of this article.


What Are Translation Services?

Translation refers to the conversion of spoken words or a body of text from its original language to a different language. Whoever is conducting a translation should have extensive literary knowledge of both languages. This is because translators not only convert the words into a different language but also ensure that the context is unmistakable.

Translators account for the nuances of different languages in order to prevent broken-telephone miscommunications of ideas and feelings. For instance, the expression of humour is in many cases dependant on the language used. Translators have to know how to deconstruct complex ideas such as jokes in order to frame them in a different language without any meaning being lost in the process.

Translators working at a professional level should be fluent in the languages they translate to and from. Additionally, they must also have a good degree of knowledge of the cultures associated with the languages they speak. This is in order to ensure no ambiguity in translations of expressions and arbitrary concepts.

Why Hire Translation Services?

There is a myriad of reasons why one could use the services of a translator. Companies employ translators to communicate with international clients and business partners. Similarly, as we have mentioned, governments also employ translators to have open communication channels with the leaders of other nations.

People also often rely on education dispensed by translators when trying to learn a different language. Being taught how to speak a new language by someone with fluency and proficiency in both that language and yours can expedite the learning process. Writers often employ the services of translators in order to access a wider target audience. Transcribing your work into a different language affords you greater reach which can increase your financial gains and attract wider interest in your work.

This can be applied vice versa as well. If you are interested in accessing information written in a different language, you can hire a translator to provide you with a transcription. Translators allow billions of people to access resources and information that they otherwise could not understand.

In the sales industry, companies hire translators in order to market their products internationally. Without the use of professional translation services, companies can end up losing the interest of international customers. It is hard to take a business seriously if they cannot even advertise themselves to you without butchering your native language.

Lost in Translation

Translators, as stated, also account for context that sometimes arises from the nuances of certain languages alongside their translations. To further express the importance of translation services, we are going to provide you with a few examples of the consequences that can stem from incorrect translations:


The Nokia scandal –

In 2011, Nokia released a new phone which was launched under the name “Lumia”. All seemed well and good for the company until they began marketing and advertising it globally. As it turns out, the word “Lumia” has a very different meaning for Spanish-speaking people.

The word is Spanish in origin and is a word used to describe a “mistress of the night”. Directly translated to English, “Lumia” actually means “hooker”. With this in mind, you can easily imagine the impressions that Spaniards were left with after learning about this new device. As funny as this story is, it does serve as an important lesson.

Had Nokia employed professional translation services, the subsequent media backlash they received could have easily been avoided. This is an example of how the absence of translators in the marketing process can alienate a target market.

This issue of not taking into consideration how words and phrases are translated into other languages is more common than you think. There are many instances where companies have blundered in similar ways. At best, such mistakes are humiliating. At worst, these mistakes can end up offending entire nations.

A grave error –

On a more serious note, there have been many times where a small mistranslation has led to dire consequences. An austere reminder of this fact can be found in the true story of 18-year-old Willie Ramirez, an American who was admitted to a Floridian hospital in 1980. Ramirez was brought to the hospital by his mother and father.

Unable to speak English, they were unable to explain the cause of his comatose state to the physician present. This physician had zero understanding of the Spanish language and was thus unable to provide a reliable prognosis. They had to rely on a bilingual staff member working at the hospital to translate the parents’ words. Untrained in proper translation skills, the staff member made a mistake that would alter the rest of Willie’s life.

When his parents used the word “intoxicado” to describe what had happened to Willie, the bilingual staff member translated the word as “intoxicated”. Being none the wiser, the acting physician deduced that Willie was suffering from a drug overdose. This motivated the physician to administer Willie with medications designed to stabilise patients in a state of overdose.

However, another translation of the word “intoxicado” is “poisoned” which is what actually happened to Willie. As a result, Willie was given medications that compounded on top of the effects of the poison in his system. Ultimately, as a result of the miscommunication, Willie arose from his coma as a quadriplegic.

The matter was eventually brought to court where the hospital was ultimately charged over $71 000 000 in a malpractice settlement. Willie was left permanently disabled and unable to function without constant assistance for the rest of his life. This tragic story should serve as a cautionary tale that encourages people to respect the nuances that arise when traversing language barriers. Simple miscommunications of context can have fatal repercussions, hence the importance of translation services.

Hiroshima –

We have already discussed the importance of professional translating services in geopolitical diplomacy. We shall now discuss what is potentially the most lethal consequence of mistranslation in history. During World War II, the United States of America (USA) was pitted in a grizzly conflict with Japan after the bombing of Pearl harbour.

As you may recall, World War II was ended after the USA dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It has been speculated that these atomic attacks could have been circumvented altogether were it not for a slight misinterpretation of something said by the Japanese Prime Minister at the time during a press conference.

During this press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki was pressed by the reporters present to issue an official response concerning the chances of Japan discussing a conditional surrender to the Allied Forces. In response to these questions, Kantaro Suzuki merely responded by saying “Mokatsuko”. For Japanese speakers, there was an implicit understanding that Suzuki was simply saying “no comment”, implying his reluctance to publicly discuss his thoughts on the matter.

Native Japanese speakers could clearly understand Suzuki’s statement given that the term “Mokatsuko” typically refers to one choosing to remain silent. However, international media evidently did not employ translation services that would have led to them having the contextual knowledge necessary in order to understand the statement fully.

When the news reached the West there was a critical misunderstanding of the context of Suzuki’s words. When Western media covered the story of the press conference, they mistranslated his words to mean “not worthy of comment”.

This insinuated that, instead of showing an unwillingness to debate the matter of surrender on a public forum, Suzuki was instead suggesting a disinterest in brokering for peace at all. As you can imagine, this led to a provocation of the Western forces.

In a matter of days after this story was covered, over 70 000 people were dead and far more left severely injured in Hiroshima after the first of two atomic bombs were launched by the US army forces. It is not difficult to imagine a different conclusion to the war were the West to have made use of professional translation services.

Contact the IL Consultancy for Expert Translation Services

The Better Learning Company is an established and well-accredited translation services provider based in South Africa. If you are interested in the work we do or in employing our services, feel free to inbox us, give us a call, or contact us on our website.


We offer translations and transcriptions in all of South Africa’s 11 official languages as well as many international languages such as Chinese. We are also qualified to provide TEFL courses to individuals interested in a career in teaching English as a foreign language abroad.