IKEA Takes Proactive Approach to Translation Issues

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Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA has long been known for its unique approach to naming products, using Scandinavian words and place names instead of serial numbers and product codes.

However, if the company had acted with less foresight, that unconventional naming system could have become a problem in Thailand. As The Wall Street Journal reports, IKEA’s “Redalen” bed and their “Jättebra” plant pot both carry some rather unbecoming connotations when spoken in Thai.

However, unlike other companies who inadvertently end up putting their proverbial feet in their proverbial mouths,  IKEA dealt with the problem the right way…by fixing it before they opened their store in Bangkok last year.

A team of employees fluent in Thai were dispatched to go through each and every product name in the IKEA catalog, making changes as necessary. One of the employees,  Natthita Opaspipat,  explained the team’s mission to the Wall Street Journal:

“The Swedish…words are important because they bring a unique character to the brand.” Still, ” we’ve got to be careful,” she continued. “Some of them can be, well, a little rude.”

To make sure the new names resembled the originals, the team changed the offending words as little as they could get away with, then trained Thai employees on appropriate pronunciations to ensure no customers would be accidentally offended.  It took them four years….but their efforts appear to have been well-rewarded, with a successful opening for the Bangkok location.

Carleton University marketing professor Robin Ritchie told the Star.com that IKEA was actually lucky to have this problem when switching between languages with a different alphabet. It could have been worse:

“Ikea was actually in a very fortunate position in the context of Thailand in the sense of because there’s a transliteration issue you have the ability to make some adjustments,” he said. “That’s not the case when you’re talking about using roman characters in a new environment.”