Olympic Lost in Translation Roundup

by Translation Guy on August 13, 2012

So looks like the London Olympics are lost in translation. No surprise there. Incredible spectacle and amazing feats of athletic prowess, the fail list for the 2012 Olympiad is going gold, if media hype is any indication. First a complete security fail with soldiers filling in for a security vendor missing in action. Then NBC gets its own hashtag #NBCFail for their lousy coverage. Then ringers sent in to fill empty seats, but no one to fill empty London streets. Then the Chinese swimming too fast.

Lots of gold and glory too, I guess, what with Phelps setting down his bong long enough to snatch up more medals, but I got to admit that my interest in the Olympics is the same as my interest in NASCAR. I watch for the crash and burn. Some may enjoy synchronized swimming but translation fails are my favorite Olympic event by far.

So, for the edification and amusement of translators everywhere, here’s a list of Olympic localization fails.

1. North Korea offended because the South Korean flag was  used  instead of their own.

2. Pentathlon competitor Jean-Maxence Berrou denied appeal to appear in the games over a translation error in the French version of his application.

3. Westfield Stratford City complex  posted “Welcome to London” banners in Arabic that were spelled backwards. “Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, tells Agence France-Presse that, had the banners been in English, it would have been as if they said, N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W.”

4. BBC commenters goof on strange-sounding foreign names. Big surprise that Brits would rank on the foreigners instead of actually rehearsing. On the other hand, it might be asking too much of the British people not to make fun of silly foreign names, since it is a core component of their culture. See video at the conclusion of this post for additional background.

B.J. Epstein condems the English for these translation crimes in the Huffington Post.  ‘If a nation is hosting people from all over the world, the host nation has a duty to ensure that everyone understands what is going on. A good translation not only helps with that goal but also suggests that people’s needs are taken seriously into consideration. It implies a level of care that might go a long way in international understanding and cooperation.

“And considering the amount of money spent on the Olympics in London, it wouldn’t have added much to the budget to hire translators. Translation is not a task that can be completed by relying on Google translation software or on a friend of a friend who happens to know a bit of Spanish or Chinese. Translation is a profession and must be treated as such.” Except at sporting events, as anyone who has ever tried to do business with the Yankees organization can tell you.

Translation means, “I care.” Has that been trademarked? If not consider it done. I’ve got to start selling T-shirts. Anyway, Epstein is right on about leaving translators to the pros. And I’m not just saying that because it’s good for business. There are other reasons too, just that none of them come to mind at this instant.


  1. Lindsay says:

    Not particularly surprised the IOC messed up, that is pretty much their job.

  2. Monica says:

    Nice idea with the t-shirts, I’d buy one.

  3. Andrew Froug says:

    Wait, you have to apply for the games in multiple languages?

  4. Brian Olenik says:

    Not a Yankee fan I’m guessing.

    • Ken says:

      You can love the Yankees and hate the organization. In fact I think it’s required. I’m the biggest post-season Yankee’s fan there is, or so my friends tell me.

  5. Sandy says:

    Nice, Monty Python.

  6. Ryan Kucera says:

    Kind of negative to revel in the failures.

  7. Gary says:

    NBC did do a horrendous job covering the Olympics.

  8. What a great way of looking at it, because translation is about caring, its ensuring that people don’t feel lost.

  9. Lady says:

    Overall, I think that for these errors to be the glaring highlights, the Olympics did a pretty good job.

  10. Pam Parton says:

    Strange the BBC announcers messing up names, usually from my soccer watching experience, the Brits are much better than Americans at that sort of thing.

  11. every sports announcer goofs on foreign names every once in a while, usually its Americans who do it regularly though.

  12. Lisa says:

    I doubt that the London Games organizers were relying on Google translation software or on a friend of a friend who happens to know a bit of Spanish or Chinese. That there were so few errors involved in such a massive, sprawling event is quite impressive actually.

  13. Patrice says:

    Olympics are useless anyways, just a money grab using a bunch of cheaters wrapping itself in a message of peace and harmony.

  14. Dorinda says:

    Can’t believe with all the billions of pounds spent, such ridiculous mistakes were made.

  15. Candace says:

    Not sure #1 actually counts as a translation fail.

    • Ken says:

      They are all pretty minor.

LiveZilla Live Chat Software