Wednesday, June 21, 2017

When Translation Gets Lost in Space

Okay, it must be that the English teacher in me is still not fully switched off for summer vacation, but today's press release from Tag Heuer had me reaching for my red pen before I'd even finished my first espresso.

So grab your exercise books and let's get to it!  And I would ask that you read all the way through to the end because there is a point I am driving at.

Courtesy of Tag Heuer

The announcement was made during a press conference held for the very first time by an international brand inside the Rocket Launch Center.
This was also the first time a watch brand was able to bring medias and retailers to watch a real Rocket Launch!

Through a journey to the moon, TAG Heuer once again visits the galaxy! 

[June 19, 2017, Xichang] Today, TAG Heuer, the Swiss avant-garde watchmaker, was gloriously chosen as Strategic Partner and Official Timekeeper for Chinas Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP). 

I guess if you're going to be chosen, it ought to be gloriously...

Courtesy of Tag Heuer
Additionally, TAG Heuer is the first international brand to hold an official partnership with China’s aerospace industry! Mr. Leo Poon, TAG Heuer General Manager of Greater China, Mr. Xu Xingli, General Manager at Chang'E Aerospace Technology (Beijing) LLC, gathered in Xichang for this meaningful press conference together with guests and friends from the media, they witnessed the magnificent launch of the satellite. With its avant-garde spirit of #DontCrackUnderPressure, TAG Heuer will continue with its great support for China’s aerospace industry, following its first partnership signed in August 2016 with China’s Mars Exploration Program. The CLEP is now on time with TAG Heuer!

If you're going to take the time to have a press conference, and you're going to invite a hundred or so media and retail partners, let's hope it's meaningful!

Tranquil as the Moon, Rising as the Sun
I have absolutely no idea what "Tranquil as the Moon, Rising
as the Sun" is supposed to mean.
In 2004, the CLEP officially started, deploying with three phases of orbiting, landing and returning. In 2007, China's first lunar probe Chang'e-1 was successfully launched. Chang'e-1 is the first lunar probe to transmit back the most complete 3-D map of the lunar surface, marking the milestone of China becoming one of the countries with outer space exploration capability. Since the second phase of the CLEP being approved and initiated in 2008, Chang’e-2 and Chang’e-3 lunar probes were successfully launched and completed their mission. The strategic goals of the second phase have been fully achieved.

In 2014, the third phase of the CLEP has officially started. The plan is to implement Chang'e-5 mission by December in 2017, fulfilling the landing of surface and collection of samples. This does not only mean the third phase of “returning” will be accomplished, it will also achieve a milestone in the history of space activities in China -- “Quadruple Success”, including the first automatic collection of samples, the first take-off from lunar surface, the first unmanned space docking from the orbit of moon that is thirty-eight million kilometres away, and the first return of lunar soils in the speed of second cosmic velocity.


By breaking limits and combating challenges, Chinese people in aerospace created a glorious miracle with extraordinary national ethos and powerful exploration spirit on this grand journey. TAG Heuer’s great support for China’s aerospace industry demonstrated the avant-garde spirit of #DontCrackUnderPressure in the best way possible.
Double ???  

I am somewhat puzzled as to just what exactly "extraordinary national ethos and powerful exploration spirit" is.

Join Hands in the Vast Space

TAG Heuer is the Swiss avant-garde watchmaker for more than a century. As early as 1962, TAG Heuer became the first Swiss watchmaker in space with American astronaut John Glenn, pilot of the Friendship 7 spacecraft on Mercury-Atlas 6. In 2012, TAG Heuer once again proved its reliability and accuracy by bringing a watch to the International Space Station by SpaceX, and became the partner with S3 (Swiss Space Systems) ZeroG aerospace program after two years.
Courtesy of Tag Heuer
TAG Heuer’s collaboration with China’s aerospace industry originated in 2016. From its partnership with China’s Mars Exploration Program to kick off its global solicitation for program logo design, to becoming Strategic Partner and Official Timekeeper of the CLEP today, TAG Heuer has shown tremendous dedication and support to the development of China’s aerospace industry and achieving the dreams of Chinese people in aerospace!

Now let's be very, very honest with each other - this is a vivid example of language and culture colliding.  And I have a theory:

1.  Tag Heuer and their folks at Tag Heuer China have worked to create a unique partnership with CLEP (China Lunar Exploration Program).  And I think this is pretty cool.  And yes, I mean that sincerely.

2.  For this event, it seems clear that it was intended for the Chinese market (press and retail partners).  Again, that is understandable.  And therefore it is reasonable to assume that the original press release was drafted in (one would assume) Mandarin.  

3.  It was probably decided that this might be interesting to the global watch press - and yes, the partnership itself is interesting and newsworthy. This release was then, most likely, translated from Mandarin to English.   The fact that it is currently a somewhat slow watch news cycle (typical for this time of year) probably also influenced the decision to send this out to the global watch press. 

4.  There are translations, and then there are translations.  Language is more than words, punctuation and grammar.  It is also about culture, and most definitely about nuance.  This is a press release that is dripping with nuance - and I mean that as praise, not as snark.  But because this was a very cursory translation, that nuance gets lost, and actually becomes somewhat comical.  When it is put into English, without taking into consideration what is cultural nuance and what is merely language, it does not have the positive impact that it might.

5.  This translation may, in fact, be the work of a few teams.  And this is just a hunch, but my hunch is that none of these teams had a native English speaker on them. 

6.  It is clear that there was not a proofreader/editor tasked with ensuring that this release made sense to the intended audience.

Now, let's think about this from a more global perspective.  A LOT of money gets spent on a daily basis by companies for advertising and marketing.  And in most industries, the companies understand the importance of clear and correct language.  The watch industry is somewhat unique in its refusal to accept that the people that they have engaged (usually agencies in Switzerland) are not delivering on their commitment to not only translate, but proof and edit their documentation and marketing materials.  In many cases there is nobody at the company who is either willing, or able to tell the decision makers that there is a problem.  The translation company assures the brand representative that they have a crack team of top translators and writers working for them.  So like the (actually) naked emperor, the brand goes through life blissfully (and willingly) unaware that a good portion of their marketing and communication collateral is not correctly translated.  And like the aforementioned emperor, these materials can become a source of unintended amusement.

And it doesn't have to be this way!  If you have budgetary funds to pay for shirts, hats, bags, press junkets to go surfing in Hawaii, free watches (hint-hint), and champagne?  Then you can afford the $200 US to pay someone who will ensure that your press release makes sense.

You know where to reach me...

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