Free Translation Advice and an Umbrella

Here is a story about how pointing out less-than-stellar translations can result in a win-win situation, make everybody happy and even make the lousy Austrian weather less frustrating.

Our Austrian company, Texterei, is a member of KSV1870 (Kreditschutzverband, a collection/business protection service). For a membership fee, they conveniently track the creditworthiness and financial standing of companies in Austria. They are a large credit rating and risk management company, and they also do collections if it comes to that (it rarely does, as a stern letter from them is usually followed by prompt payment).

Dagy has always thought that KSV1870 is a highly professional operation: their website is great, their services and processes are excellent, they have outstanding customer service and they keep in touch with their members by sending vouchers for services and give-aways every once in a while. They also send out very handy stickers that can be used on payment reminders. They are bright red, which makes them hard to miss, and they have a powerful message printed on them, in one of those famous passive wordings in German: "Bei Nichtbezahlung erfolgt Inkasso durch den KSV." Unfortunately, KSV1870 decided to add the same information in English. They clearly translated it themselves (they probably thought: come on, it’s just a few words, and we all speak English). They put their heads together and came up with: "In case of non-payment debt collection is made through KSV1870."

While we have certainly seen much, much worse, this translation sounds like a German sentence with English words stuck into it. Dagy has been reluctant to use these stickers for that very same reason. When she recently received yet another batch of those stickers, she decided to complain effectively and sent an e-mail to KSV1870. She recommended using a professional translator, and since she was at it, suggested a new translation. After a brief consultation with our pro bono American attorney (yes, we are related to him), who excels at writing succinct legalese, we suggested using "Failure to pay this invoice will result in a debt collection action by KSV." The very next day, she received both an e-mail and a phone call from a very friendly marketing lady who thanked her profusely and also told her that she had passed on her contact information to several departments in the company. As a token of their appreciation, KSV sent her one of those very handy folding mini-umbrellas (Knirps in German), which is a great thing to have in this lousy weather. 


Sophia OZOG on February 9, 2011 at 6:22 AM said...

Nice! That shows how helpful advice from professional translators can be, especially when we take a few minutes to go the extra mile and point out a translation problem that may affect the image of a whole company. Well done!

Rose Newell on February 9, 2011 at 6:27 PM said...


That was a smart move on Dagy's part, too, since you never know where a favour might land you. When I corrected a restaurant menu once, the kind waiter gave me a fresh mint tea and falafel on the house. Smaller scale, sure, but certainly appreciated.

ES on February 17, 2011 at 5:05 AM said...

Well, I am going to do the same today.
I was searching the web when I found a site with a very bad translation into Russian. It looks like they used Google Translate. Now I am going to write them a letter and offer a better translation of a couple of paragraphs as well as my services.
And I would like to thank you for your book--The Enrepreneurial Linguist. I am reading it now and learn a lot of useful. Thank you very much for sharing your experience.

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