It’s no secret that bad translation can get you into trouble, but just how bad can it be?
Most recently, bad translation has led to one man’s arrest, a nation wasting millions of dollars and mass confusion on public transportation.
A Spotlight on Bad Translation
“Translators’ Hall of Shame” is our blog post series highlighting translation woes from around the world. In this edition, we’ll share some shockingly bad translation outcomes. However, we’ll also share an important tip on how you can help keep bad translation at bay, no matter who you choose to translate for you.
Correcting Translation Error Saves $23 Million
Translation errors are expensive, but don’t just take our word for it. Ask Kuwait’s Ministry of Public Works.
As Neha Bhatia reported, they relied on a technical document concerning construction techniques that was translated from English to Arabic and had been in force since the 1980s. However, an item regarding groundwater and concrete placement had been translated incorrectly. Over the years this led to greatly increased costs for Kuwait’s Ministry of Public Works.
Luckily, the mistranslation has since been corrected. The ministry estimates that they have saved $23 million just on their first two projects following the correction.
Facebook’s Automatic Translation Led to Man’s Arrest
According to The Guardian, a Palestinian construction worker in the West Bank posted a photo of himself with a bulldozer on Facebook. He added the caption “Good morning.”
Unfortunately, Facebook’s automatic translation translated his message as “Attack them” in Hebrew. The man was then arrested and questioned by Israeli police officers who feared that the man planned to use the bulldozer in an attack. (Israel regularly monitors Palestinian social media accounts.)
Facebook has apologized for the translation error.
Safety Messages Confuse Transit Users
In Mumbai, India, railway authorities used Google Translate to translate a series of public safety messages from English and Hindi into Marathi for use at railway stations. However, the Marathi instructions were less than clear to transit users.
The safety messages even included the phrase “Please do not use short cuts,” (a piece of advice they should have taken to heart themselves) but this was translated into Marathi as “Please do not use small ball.” Another message read “Please keep aside either” instead of “Please walk on one side.” And a third message in Marathi contained typos.
After a public drubbing on social media, the railway authorities promised to correct and replace the translated safety messages.
Fighting the Good Fight Against Bad Translation
As a full-service translation agency with decades of experience helping organizations communicate with stakeholders around the world, we hate to see good people suffer from bad translation. That’s why we wrote our whitepaper on how to check translations: “The Best Way to Check If a Translation Is Okay.” Download it now for a clear process and worksheet templates.
Whether we’ve translated a text or someone else has, we always recommend checking that translation out. After all, quality assurance helps ensure that you’re getting what you’ve paid for, and not a costly mistake.
For more information about how Responsive Translation can help you and your organization communicate effectively in foreign languages, please get in touch at 212-818-1102 ext 208 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or click here for an instant translation quote.