Last week, I came back from a vacation to Turkey, which was a lot of fun for me as a Russian linguist. It was my first time in this country, and although Turkey is one of the most favorite destinations of the Russian tourists, I was surprised to find how common the knowledge of Russian is among the local population. Indeed, being a vacation destination that’s extremely popular with Russians (you don’t need a visa for a stay up to 30 days), Turkey absolutely must speak the language of its many Russian guests. This post provides a summary of my language experiences in this country.
I was surprised to find that the proficiency in the Russian language is quite high among the Turkish people who need to communicate with tourists such as hotel staff, salespeople, etc. Even during my visit to a local clinic, the medical staff was able to speak good Russian. Interestingly, Russian isn’t an easy language to learn and isn’t a world language such as English, Spanish, or French, so the Turks’ willingness to learn it is especially praiseworthy. I believe that if Russia somehow became a tourist destination, it would be brutally hard for our people to achieve a comparable level of proficiency in a similar regional language such as Turkish. Based on my linguistic experiences in Turkey, I conclude that if you are a Russian who doesn’t consider Turkey as a vacation destination because of a potential language barrier, your fears are unrealistic.
Not only is Turkey proficient in spoken Russian, but it makes a lot of written information available in Russian, too. In the locations I’ve been to, written Russian is even more common than the world’s favorite English. Many signs, labels, product descriptions, and menus include Russian translations. Hotel brochures and websites are available in Russian as well. While the ability to have a Russian translation when you need it is undoubtedly valuable, I have to admit that the low quality of some of those translations actually makes them useless. Here is an example from the website of the hotel I stayed at:
Также мы предлогаем к Вашему вниманию разнообразный список меню, из которого Вы сможите выбрать что-нибудь относительно повода собрания и вкуса гостей. (Two spelling errors and two stylistic errors in a single sentence)
As a client or prospect, I can tolerate a certain amount of errors, but this is just too much. A hotel’s website translation should be professional. Period. After all, it’s one of the primary customer-facing materials and marketing tools a hotel has.
In fact, I tried to be as nonjudgmental as possible with regard to Russian translations during my stay in Turkey since I know that translation errors are quite common and understandable. But seeing multiple and sometimes outrageous errors again and again, I couldn’t help thinking that at least in some cases, Google Translate could fare better. Check out the photos for a few examples:
Negative Impact of Poor Translations
Despite the increasingly global economy, many business owners still don’t realize that the quality of translation matters more than “savings” generated by using a hobby translator instead of a pro. It’s great that the hotel management makes the first step of making information available to their foreign guests. But this step alone isn’t enough to make things easier for those guests. What’s more important in terms of customer service is ensuring the quality of translation. Time and time again during this vacation, I’ve seen that many Russian folks don’t speak any language other than Russian. This means that having accurately translated information available is crucial to their ability to buy from a hotel. But when a hotel uses their local Turkish staff to do the translation, the results are often too poor to be of any use to the guests and can even turn potential clientèle down. The bottom line is that if your business depends on translation a lot, make sure it’s not just “available,” but is also excellent.
One obvious solution is to use professional Russian translators who are native speakers of the target language instead of folks who will need to look up every other word in a dictionary and won’t even care, or know how, to use a spell checker. And if you can’t enlist the services of a pro, consider using Google Translate rather than someone from your staff. GT can do a better job than a hobby translator who doesn’t have a flair for the target language and relies heavily on a dictionary. At the very least, Google Translate makes much fewer grammar and spelling errors.
If you want your translation to project a professional image, it is a good idea to work with professional Russian translators.