It’s just a letter

It’s just a letter, you can do it in a few minutes, can’t be that expensive! My niece speaks Portuguese quite well, she will do it for me. If you are a translator, you probably already heard something similar, either from a possible client, an acquaintance, relative or friend.  I am not going to talk about how offensive a comment like this can be for a professional translator, as I believe a lot has been said about that subject already. Instead, I am going to talk about what a “niece that speaks Portuguese very well” can do to “just a letter”.

1. Wrong variant

You want to contact a possible client in a Portuguese speaking country, you prepare a cover letter introducing yourself and your company to that client. “It is just a letter”, so you decide to ask your “niece who speaks Portuguese very well” to translate it for you. It will save you money and “you will get the job done”, or will you.

Your “niece who speaks Portuguese very well” translates it for you, but because she is not aware of localisation issues she translates the letter into the variant she knows. However, your client is not a native speaker of that variant, so for them, some of the words in that letter may not be recognised, may have a different meaning or there may be even the chance of some being offensive. In the end, your possible client finds your letter confusing and doesn’t take you seriously and dismisses your letter. You never get a response.

2. Technical terms

Your “simple letter” also contains the specifications of several mechanical parts your company produces. You want your client to know about these components as they may be very useful for their company’s machinery. Your “niece” may “speak Portuguese very well”, but she may not be familiar with all the technical terms you used in your specifications. So, she looks up on Google or “simply uses Google Translate”, after all “it is just a letter” right, so it won’t hurt for sure. “It can be done in just a few minutes”.

In the end, your “niece” finds terms that are not adequate for that particular translation and the result is that your client won’t understand what parts your company produces or what interest may they have in them. You never get a response.


These are “simple examples” of how a bad translation can damage your business. It doesn’t mean that “your niece” did not speak Portuguese very well, in fact, she could be quite good. But speaking a language does not qualify her as a translator, because to be a translator you need to know the cultures you are dealing with, so you are aware of what is and what isn’t culturally acceptable, you must be aware of localisation issues, so you transfer the message correctly. Even if you are a qualified translator, you cannot translate into all fields. Some technical fields need specialised translators. We invest our time and our money into that specialisation, so when you bring us your “simple letter”, we don’t say “it is just a letter”, we say “I am going to help you make this deal”.