Taco Bell and Translation

Today I can’t get Taco Bell out of my mind (crunchy taco or chicken burrito, anyone?) and it reminded me of this gem that I wrote for Same Day Translations back in March. Still makes me chuckle – and the lesson is still just as applicable today: Never, ever skimp on translation. Poor translation never goes unnoticed, and it can have a serious negative impact on your company or business.

After a 20-year absence from the country, Taco Bell returned to Japan this week, opening a location in the Shibuya neighborhood in Tokyo. The grand opening was a great success, with hundreds of people lining up to try out the Mexican fast food restaurant’s food—but those who visited the Taco Bell Japan website may not have been so impressed. Japanese-speaking visitors to the site were quick to notice some funny and embarrassing translation blunders from the obviously Google-translated website.

The site was quickly pulled down and visitors were instead redirected to the company’s Japanese social media sites—but not before a few visitors got some screenshots and a few of the more comical errors hit Twitter. “Cheesy Chips” were labeled yasuppoi chippusu, which can also be translated as “low-quality chips.” “Cheesy Fries” became “A low-quality fleece,” which isn’t even a food. And on the company history page, the phrase “A legacy is born” retained only the computer technology meaning of the word “legacy” (old, obsolete, backdated), to render the phrase in Japanese as meaning “An obsolete program is born.” Finally, in the ingredient sources section of the site, Taco Bell announced that “We’ve got nothing to hide”—but unfortunately the Japanese translation reads more along the lines of “What did we bring here to hide?” That’s likely not quite the message the company was trying to convey.

Despite the lack of quality translation, Taco Bell’s Japanese return appeared to be a great success, with customers traveling for miles to try out the new restaurant. However, in many cases a website translation failure can be a major setback to a product’s launch in a new market, especially if the errors are culturally offensive or if there are a lot of them on the site. While even professional translators sometimes make mistakes, paying for a professional translation ensures that at least two and sometimes three native speakers approve the text before it appears on a live website—which protects a company from embarrassment and potential product launch failure.

See the Rocket News report and more of the Taco Bell translation blunders online here.


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