The Bad and the Brilliant in Multilingual Communication Practices

Time and time again, we witness embarrassing examples of failures in multicultural marketing and communication, where organisations cut corners, and in the process, damage their reputation, their relationship with their client base, and end up on an infamous ‘Top 10 Translation Fails’ list.

The most disconcerting part is that these consequences are entirely preventable.

In this article, we delve into both bad and brilliant campaign examples, and highlight instances where organizations have missed the mark entirely. Ranging from horrifying to amusing, these cases should give you a better understanding of what can happen to your organisation if you don’t get it right.

At Polaron, we are dedicated to ensuring that your multicultural communication practices are effective and successful, so keep reading! You’ll also find some tips on how to get it right, regardless of your budget, timelines, or internal resources.


✅ Employing NAATI-certified professional translators to carry out translation work, and working closely with community members to ensure the campaign is accurate and appropriate for the community it aims to engage.

❌ Asking bilingual community members to translate highly technical information.

The Brilliant

The Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC) wanted to strengthen their connection with the multicultural communities in Victoria. Polaron recommended conducting community consultations to gather direct feedback from community members to inform the direction of the campaign. 

Polaron facilitated consultations across five different communities and obtained valuable insights regarding mental health stigma and perceived barriers to accessing mental health services within these communities. The Commission also wanted to focus on community wellbeing and promote its work in the most culturally appropriate and effective way.

The Bad

A local council offered community members $50 gift cards in exchange for translating highly technical information into multiple languages to be used for flyers advertising council services. The idea behind it was to give bilingual community members the chance to test their translation skills and contribute to the distribution of information amongst their communities; but it ended up as a massive fail.

Many community members did not have the right technical knowledge or level of literacy required to translate the materials accurately, and so they didn’t come forward to take on the project. Even when community members were happy to contribute, they were unwilling to dedicate several hours of their time and effort for only $50. 

We also heard on the grapevine that the council staff member in charge received many queries and complaints about the process, the budget and the project itself, creating more work for her and confusion amongst the communities the council was wanting to reach.

The council could have avoided all of this if they had engaged the services of professional language translators from the outset. This would have ensured the project was completed on time and with guaranteed accuracy.

✅Translation is being aware of any cultural nuances and contexts that may diverge from the source text, and that may differ between translations in different languages.

❌ Translation is not simply rendering the text in another language without updating imagery and contextual examples to reflect the target audience.


The Brilliant

Polaron supported the City of Casey with the ‘CaseyGirlsCan’ campaign, which was designed to encourage women and girls to get active, addressing barriers to participation. To engage hard-to-reach communities, culturally appropriate social media tiles, banners, and other resources were developed and translated into three community languages. 

The Bad

Upon entering the Japanese market, Proctor & Gamble released packaging for their Pampers nappies that featured a stork delivering a baby. This tale is different in Japanese folklore, and so Japanese consumers were left confused by the image of a stork on the packaging. More accurate and culturally appropriate imagery could have included giant peaches carrying babies along a river. 

✅ Translation is incorporating technologies like Computer-Assisted-Translation (CAT) tools, glossaries of terms and translation memories to maximise efficiency in the translation process.

❌ Translation is not feeding text into a machine translator without human review.


The Brilliant

With the support of Polaron, a multilingual cancer glossary, available in nine languages, was developed. This resource was designed for professional translators, interpreters, and bilingual health professionals working in the cancer field. It provides them with access to accurate, consistent, culturally, and linguistically appropriate terminology, which addresses the known risk of mistranslation of cancer specific terms in resources in languages other than English.

The Bad

At a Google conference where the addition of 24 new languages to Google Translate was unveiled, a backdrop slide displayed Arabic Text backwards. This could have easily been prevented with just one look from a professional translator. Image credit: Twitter 

✅ Translation is having meticulous translation review processes in place to ensure the highest quality output.

❌ Translation is not rushing to deliver translated materials without proper scrutiny.


The Brilliant

In the height of the pandemic in Australia, Polaron identified the urgent need for instructions for COVID-19 RAT kits in languages other than English. This is why our team of project managers and NAATI-certified translators offered the translation of RAT test instructions in seven languages, completely free of charge, whilst still maintaining thorough review processes, and a high standard of quality and accuracy in translation. 

The Bad

The pandemic showcased many examples of rushed translation work that was not properly reviewed by qualified individuals, meaning that crucial public health and safety messaging was often incorrect, variable, or completely nonsensical. Image credit: ABC

✅ Interpreting is employing a NAATI-certified professional interpreter who has a wealth of experience and expertise in providing language services.

❌ Interpreting is not a child advocating and relaying information on behalf of their family member.


The Brilliant

Boral, one of the largest construction materials companies in Australia faced a unique challenge when they were required to collaborate with a construction team from Poland on a special roof installation project in Queensland. 

Polaron provided a team of professional NAATI-certified interpreters who facilitated live interpretation during the induction and onboarding process at the quarry. This ensured that everyone on the worksite comprehended the risks and regulations associated with working in Australia to prevent hazards on the job. 

The Bad

Unlike professional interpreters, family members, particularly young children, are not trained to remain neutral and passive during interpretation. As a result, information can be omitted, added or distorted. Additionally, in medical settings where emotions and stakes are high, it is both an unreasonable and unethical practice to rely on family members to replace professional translators.

✅ Interpreting is appropriately briefing a credentialed interpreter so that they are equipped with the relevant technical knowledge and context of the event.

❌ Interpreting is not relying on a multilingual staff member as a last-minute solution to a language barrier.


The Brilliant

Polaron provided interpreters to the Burnet Institute to facilitate interviews with individuals from diverse communities as part of a large-scale study. Additionally, Polaron provided comprehensive training to the interpreters and the bilingual workers involved, ensuring they were fully briefed before commencing the project. The bilingual workers were also made aware of their limitations as non-accredited language interpreters. 

The Bad

Multilingual staff may assist with simple communication, such as directing clients or helping them understand basic forms or instructions. However, they should not be relied upon for relaying technical or sensitive information, as miscommunication may have serious consequences for all involved.


The importance of using professional translation and interpretation services cannot be understated. Cutting corners and implementing amateur, unreliable and unethical solutions can lead to serious consequences, as we have seen time and time again. By working with NAATI-accredited translators and interpreters who have the required skills, knowledge, and experience, accuracy and precision in communication can be guaranteed.

At Polaron, our team of professionals are committed to providing high-quality language solutions to meet the needs of our clients. Contact us today for any upcoming language service projects, and trust us to deliver reliable and effective, high-quality communications solutions that meet your specific requirements.

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