McDonalds’ Failed Attempt at Foreign Outreach

For companies that are nationally recognized, every move they make is in the public eye. McDonald’s especially is constantly under scrutiny in the United States as it fights against backlash from health professionals and organizations such as PETA. For that reason, their most recent billboard translation blunder is all over the news. You’d think that a company as large and powerful as McDonald’s could afford a higher quality professional translation service, but instead all they got was a botched billboard and public outrage. The billboard was put up in St. Paul, Minnesota, where there is the largest Hmong community in the United States.

Hmong Message Lost in Translation

Hmong are people from the mountainous regions of Vietnam, China, Laos, and Thailand. They are a sub-group of the Miao ethnicity, and there are many of them in St. Paul who still speak their native language.  The billboard, which appears in English all over the country, was supposed to say “coffee gets you up, breakfast gets you going.” Hmong people in the area said that whatever professional translator assigned to the job clearly did not speak the language, as the message barely even made sense. It would be the equivalent of trying to read a sentence on a sign in English with no spaces between the words.

Message Was Not Offensive in Nature

While the Hmong community is offended that McDonald’s carelessly printed the incorrect translation, the message itself is not actually offensive. Lucky for McDonald’s, there were no bad words or symbols in the failed translation. However, you can’t blame the Hmong people in the area for feeling like McDonald’s must have skimped on their plan to reach out to the large but minority community and might have hired a Chinese translator with little knowledge of the Hmong dialect. McDonald’s officials released an apology for the blunder, announcing that they’ll repost the billboards with the correct translation within a week.

Even if you own a company that is on a smaller scale than McDonald’s, it is important that you get your translation right the first time when tailoring a special message. While you’re trying to make a certain community feel important by reaching out to them personally, you might end up offending them by proving you didn’t do your research. Even when communicating one-on-one with clients or business partners, make sure you hire a reputable business translation service to avoid any errors.

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