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Serious translation blunders in the business world
Thread poster: Dan Lucas

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:14
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Nov 13, 2015

We discuss mistakes, errors and misunderstandings in translation all the time. I am guessing that many of the serious errors in translation are never publicised in the outside world: they get hushed up before the media notices.

Does anybody know of any really significant error/s in business that had verifiable and serious consequences for the parties concerned?

A quick google gives me lots of "funny translation" hits but I'm looking for something with a little more gravitas to show to clients. Any ideas?

Regards
Dan


 

Roni_S  Identity Verified
Slovakia
Local time: 11:14
Slovak to English
Dan Nov 13, 2015

there have been many translation blunders in the business world that eventually ended up being debunked, like the Coca Cola thing in China and the car thing in South America. I know I'm not contributing to your subject but maybe your clients will appreciate the humorous side of things, and they may come to realize how awful bad translations are. I once bought a shirt that told me to iron on the right side (as opposed to reverse side), and while that may not be catasrophic it is certainly worthy of ridicule.

I recently had a client change a translation I did where I used the term "serve" to indicate the service of court documents, and the client changed it to a verbatim rendition of the source language and it ended up being "delivered to own hands".

It's certainly not worthy of any business failure, but it most definitely shows you the failure of poor translations. Maybe that's where you need to direct your clients?
Roniicon_smile.gif


 

Mirja Maletzki  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:14
Korean to German
+ ...
Search for Korean FTA translations Nov 13, 2015

One of my favorite stories that I like to tell when something asks me if "translation" is an actual job and not something done to earn a side income while you're at university.


This is what happens if just any translator (read: someone who knows someone who knows someone who studied abroad) is selected to translate FTA documents between nations.

https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/common/printpreview.asp?categoryCode=123&newsIdx=85737


 

Jorgelina Millán  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
Take a look at these Nov 13, 2015

There are countless examples of translation blunders having a serious impact on business and/or people's lives.

See below:

9 Little Translation Mistakes That Caused Big Problems
http://mentalfloss.com/article/48795/9-little-translation-mistakes-caused-big-problems

Mistakes in Translation and Advertising that will Make Your International Business Fail
http://www.pangeanic.com/knowledge_center/mistakes-translation-advertising-will-make-international-business-fail/#

Go For Quality Translations: Cheap Translations Will Cost Dear
http://www.pangeanic.com/knowledge_center/go-quality-translations-cheap-translations-will-cost-dear/#


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:14
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Debunked language myths Nov 13, 2015

englishpartner wrote:
There have been many translation blunders in the business world that eventually ended up being debunked, like the Coca Cola thing in China and the car thing in South America.


Yes. A recommended book for debunkers is "Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends" by David Wilton. Example:



Jorgelina Millán wrote:
There are countless examples of translation blunders having a serious impact on business and/or people's lives.


Yes, but many of those examples are urban legends, i.e. made-up stories.



The first eight examples on this list are actually true (the ninth one is open to interpretation).

Mistakes in Translation and Advertising that will Make Your International Business Fail
http://www.pangeanic.com/knowledge_center/mistakes-translation-advertising-will-make-international-business-fail/


On this page, only the HSBC example is true.


[Edited at 2015-11-13 13:23 GMT]


 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:14
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Fascinating book Nov 13, 2015

Samuel Murray wrote:
Yes. A recommended book for debunkers is "Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends" by David Wilton.

Samuel, thank you for that very interesting reference. Proffering a debunked myth such as these as a genuine event is exactly the sort of thing I want to avoid.

If a client were to look into it and find out that there was no basis in fact for the story to which I refer, my credibility as a researcher would be shot and I would fall at the first hurdle. That's not the way to get work.

So, echoing the points made by Samuel and Roni (and with thanks to the other contributors) I need to be able to verify any story. And that's why I started the thread.

Regards
Dan


 

Roni_S  Identity Verified
Slovakia
Local time: 11:14
Slovak to English
This is why Nov 13, 2015

I always look to engrish.com, not only for the fact that it makes my day (usually) but also because it gives food for thought and it sometimes offers my clients something they will understand as being engrish. They then realize the meaning of bad English (well, some of them do, the others continue to believe they do English). And you don't want that, no matter what your business.

As an aside, the motorcycle jacket the other day on this site saying something like 'I wouldn't s**t you, you're my favorite turd' made me laugh for two days!

Edited to insert the "e" in believe, as I was embarassed by the mistake!

[Edited at 2015-11-13 14:30 GMT]


 

Daryo
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:14
Serbian to English
+ ...
this one is a pretty serious translation blunder Nov 13, 2015

that happened ways before the advent of the Internet, so I can't find any Web reference for it. It's from the 80's, so the only way to check all the details would be to dig into the archives of the publishing house Politika.

A factory hall was being assembled somewhere in Central Serbia, with elements supplied from Germany. Instructions were translated in Serbian, and the supporting structure for the roof was assembled according to the translated instructions.

One night (luckily!), before they starting moving machines in this brand new factory hall, the whole roof collapsed crashing on the factory floor.

It turned out that the translator was careless with numbers and didn't check the accuracy of its translation, so the instructions contained the wrong specification for few bolts that where supposed to be far stronger than the rest of them - end result being the installed bolts couldn't take the weight of the roof at few critical points!

I still remember this story as it's a good example of how much troubles can be caused by just few wrong numbers!

It's more an example of potentially deadly errors, not so much of "funny translations". Nor it is in the same league of "potential for causing damage" as few totally unusable translations I've seen over the years.

I also know of one business trip that was completely wasted and had to be repeated because the interpreter was totally out of its depth, damn good example of very expensive penny-pinching (but unsurprisingly details are not going ever to be published).


 

putri.linguist
Indonesia
Local time: 16:14
English to Indonesian
Talking about serious errors... Nov 13, 2015

If the errors you mean include those that are caused by "no translation"... The German brand "Silit" has become a joke since its arrival in Indonesia, because the word "silit" means "anus" in the language. I can't imagine one's reaction if someone tell them they work in Silit or if one says they like Silit....

I don't know what "silit" means in German (or whether it's just a name not referring to anything), and we know businesses do not normally translate or change brand names. But I guess, it could have been better if they had consulted to a linguist or brand ethnographer beforehand.


 

Roni_S  Identity Verified
Slovakia
Local time: 11:14
Slovak to English
Silit Nov 13, 2015

See, now that would mean nothing to me as an English speaker, and I also have this as a brand in my country (I mean silit), but it has a fatal effect in your language. Language is so far reaching, and so few people understand that it's so much more than words :

 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:14
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
True, but kind of inappropriate Nov 13, 2015

englishpartner wrote:
See, now that would mean nothing to me as an English speaker, and I also have this as a brand in my country (I mean silit), but it has a fatal effect in your language.

It's a good example of the absurdities that can result from poor translation. On the other hand "Did you know that silit means anus in a certain Indonesian language?" is probably not a great conversation starter in a business setting.icon_smile.gif

Regards
Dan


 

Miguel Carmona  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:14
English to Spanish
... Nov 13, 2015

Samuel Murray wrote:

Debunked language myths

A recommended book for debunkers is "Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends" by David Wilton.


@Samuel,

Thank you so much for this valuable reference. I have been sick and tired for years of realizing how many people actually believe the stupid Nova mith.

From page 190 posted by Samuel:
While no va does indeed mean “no go,” Spanish also has the word nova, which like the English word, comes from the Latin for new. The Spanish nova is spelled as one word, not two, and it is pronounced differently from no va, with the accent on the first syllable, instead of the second… Spanish speakers would not confuse the two… no Spanish speaker would be confused by nova.


A published author I had the not very pleasant experience of working with many years ago (she was completely illiterate regarding the Spanish language and translation), was one of the many uninformed people who contributed to disseminating and perpetuating that stupid fake Nova story that some folks who do not know anything about the Spanish language (or probably about Latin or any Romance language) believe so readily without checking basic facts.

You sure made my day.

[Edited at 2015-11-14 17:02 GMT]


 

Natalie Soper  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:14
French to English
+ ...
A cafe in San Sebastian... Nov 13, 2015

I once came across a cafe in San Sebastian that had translated the Spanish drink "Colacao" as "tail," Pineapple juice as "fragmentacion hand grenade" and included other gems such as "back of fresh pig." My friends and I had a good laugh at the menu, and, of course, didn't buy anything - their menu had been rendered completely useless to an English speaker.

To this day, I have no idea how they came to the hand grenade one...


 

Roni_S  Identity Verified
Slovakia
Local time: 11:14
Slovak to English
Hmm Nov 13, 2015

Natialie, I have seen some really nice menus, but the hand grenade is quite nice! Don't know if I can top that, although I can attempt iticon_smile.gif

 

Daryo
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:14
Serbian to English
+ ...
how comes ... Nov 14, 2015

Natalie Soper wrote:

I once came across a cafe in San Sebastian that had translated ... Pineapple juice as "fragmentacion hand grenade" My friends and I had a good laugh at the menu, ...

To this day, I have no idea how they came to the hand grenade one...


how they came to the hand grenade one?

Probably by looking for translation in some glossary of military slang - some hand grenades do have a vague visual similarity with a pineapple; but then translating a restaurant/cafe's menu by looking into military slang is a very "creative / innovative" method of translating which surely any real pro translator should have in its toolbox...



Pineapple-clean-FD-xl.jpg

.....

MK2_grenade_DoD.jpg



[Edited at 2015-11-14 12:05 GMT]


 
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