When expanding your business to an international market, you will most likely get to a point where you will translate your existing content into the country’s language you are expanding to.

However, while translation is a simple concept, it can be one of the trickier and more complicated strategies, and it can be devastating to your business if done incorrectly.

That’s right. Problems arise when you translate your content without a strategy or the right people … TRANSLATION FAILS. A LOT of them.


Translation errors tell your market that you don’t care enough about their country or culture to use the correct regional words in your marketed content. 

Some of the major mistakes that can lead to international translation fails are:

  1. Ignoring regional differences
  2. Neglecting to consult a professional
  3. Not fully committing to the translation
international translation fails

Any of these mistakes can lead to a translation failure, which can subsequently lead to a localization failure and a loss in profit.

Let’s look at each one specifically!

Mistake #1: Ignoring Regional Differences

Just as American English and British English have different lexicons, so do other regions that share the same language speaking market.

For instance,

With Spanish, what might mean one thing in Mexico, might have an entirely different meaning in Argentina. 

From the top of Mexico to the bottom of Argentina there are about 7,000 miles (about 11,000 kilometers) to cross — it is no wonder you will find dramatic differences between the same language on one continent.

You can even find dramatic differences within one country!

Don’t believe me? Ask a Colombian!

And if you are looking to market to Brazil, your in for a whole ‘nother language and culture entirely! Pay attention to these regional differences!

translation fails in-latin-america

If you don’t pay attention to regional differences, it can look very bad when marketing in the same language to different cultures.

Here are some examples for the Spanish-speaking market! Let us know if you have other examples from other cultures to share.

Common Translation Fails: A Bus in Latin America

Autobús vs. Camión vs. Bondi vs. Micro vs. Colectivo vs. Guagua

There are countless ways to say “bus” in Latin America. In Caribbean countries like Cuba, the DR, and Puerto Rico, the word guagua is common instead of the classic Castilian autobús.

However, a guagua in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, and Uruguay means baby or toddler (see micro or bondi for bus in these countries).

And whereas colectivo (or cole for short) can be used in Argentina for bus, in Chile they are shared taxis. 

To make matters more complicated, Mexicans use the word camión for public transport, whereas in most other countries it just means truck. 

Common Translation Fails: To Take in Spanish

Coger vs. Tomar vs. Agarrar

The English verb to take or to grab manifests in several different forms. In some countries like Spain and Colombia, coger is perfectly kosher to use, i.e. coger el bus → take the bus.

In many other countries in Latin America, coger is a very clear sexual innuendo. To solve this problem, some Latino dialects prefer to use the verbs tomar or agarrar, i.e. (Argentina) tomar el bondi → take the bus.

Common Translation Fails: A Beautiful Blonde Monkey in Colombia?


For most Spanish learners, this word would jump off the page as monkey.


In Spain, mono/a is a term of endearment for a cute person or is used to describe something beautiful, i.e. ¡qué mono tu vestido! → how cute is your dress. But in Colombia, it is a blonde woman.

The most popular definition of a mona is a female monkey. If you didn’t know this information then you might have called a cute girl a monkey!

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to make any of these mistakes in your own work… how unprofessional!

Mistake #2: Neglecting to Consult a Local Professional

First off, translating your text word for word from one language to another is the wrong way to do it. One reason is that it will not always be grammatically correct and even if it was, you want to make sure the new content works for your market.

Here’s a PRO-Tip:

Instead of sitting in front of Google Translate, try hiring a local content marketing professional to oversee your content so that you can make sure you (1) get your translations right and (2) publish content that works for your international market.

It’s best to hire a team that can customize the message to your unique audience than a regular translator who has never worked in the world of international marketing.

Avoid international translation fails by hiring the right people for the job!

Mistake #3: Not Fully Committing to the Target Market

international translation fails by marketers who don't commit to the translation

Here’s news you probably don’t want to hear:

EVEN IF you get the translation right, it’s not enough to pull in your target market. You have to relate to them and their culture and cater your offer to them.

This means you have to be on the ball when it comes to your localization strategy. This requires not just a translation professional but a cultural marketing professional.

If you’re going to translate, transcreate, or localize, you have to make sure your brand and offer are properly adjusted to your new target audience.

This requires a marketing professional who can lead you into understanding the importance of a market entry strategy paired with a plan for localization.

The Importance of Language Localization Strategy in Translation

Just as you would change your content to match specific U.S. demographics, you must do the same for the country you are expanding to.

And just like you need a content strategy to be successful domestically, you also need a language localization strategy to be successful abroad.

Without one, how could you possibly know how to relate to your audience?

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO is craft up the right market entry strategy for your brand or hire/outsource to the right people who can get you started.

That is how you can avoid international marketing mistakes!

Check out the link attached above if you want to see how the likes of KFC, Ford, and BMW have all failed in international markets because of a lack of localization!

Translating Secrets: How to Avoid International Translation Fails

If your market entry strategy and localization plan are in place, then you can be at ease when trying to avoid translation fails so that you can sell product/service in your foreign market.

Luckily for you, we’ve laid some tips out to use when translating:

  • Use Bing Translator, Google Translate, and Word Reference for software translations at first. Then, double-check the work with a local from the market you are expanding into!
  • Turn to Upwork and Fiverr for talented translators on a budget.
  • Contract a proofreader who can differentiate slang from different countries and help you change your tone by the target audience.
  • Contract a multicultural marketing expert to manage the different messages to your different audiences.

Ready to Expand Internationally?

Translation is only a PART of a whole localization strategy to enter a new market successfully.

As mentioned already, you should have this all set in place before you even start translating.

If you are interested in expanding in the Americas, contact our on-the-ground, multicultural business specialists who understand foreign markets and can help you expand your business in the growing region!


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