How many minutes are there in a while?

Some months ago I bought myself a motorcycle. As you may know, it’s sensible for riders to lube the chain of their bikes from time to time. So, having read some “user generated content” in specialised blogs about which are the best products and how to do it, I bought what seemed to be the best chain cleaner and lubricant.

First you have to apply the chain cleaner in order to get rid of all the dirt and residues.

Wondering how long I would have to let it dry before removing the dirt with a non-abrasive brush, I thought it wise to check the instructions on the can … or rather first identify which of the languages I understood as the instructions came in no fewer 29 (!) languages.

Spanish, English … all fine … but let’s check if there is also a German version (there is nothing like your mother tongue when it gets down to the real nitty-gritty like checking instructions, descriptions, etc.)… And there it is!

“Auf die Kette sprühen und kurz einwirken lassen.” (Spray on the chain and let it work for a short time) …

But how long is a “short time”?! This is the first time I´m doing it and I don’t want to screw it up by leaving the product too long on the chain (which may damage the seal – who knows!) or leave it for too short a time (which may leave residues on the chain, again causing an issue).

20 seconds, maybe a minute, maybe two?

“Short time” …  a very relative expression …

So I started to see what the other languages said. ALL the other 28 languages state that you have to let it dry for 5 minutes. Except German …

In my opinion there was no need to be creative in translating such a detail.

That’s something the proof reader should have spotted!

And if the producer (a multinational company selling products across the globe) had integrated a quick internal language quality check into their translation process, I´m pretty sure they would have spotted the issue as well.

To be honest, in this case, this little detail may not be a matter of life or death. But when it comes to translating instructions on the correct use of a product the development of which has cost you millions, you had better ensure you take the time to get it right!