Bilingual = translator?
Many people think that being able to speak another language (or more) in addition to your mother tongue is enough to become a good translator/ interpreter. That is definitely not the case. Being a translator or interpreter (the difference between the two explained here) requires a special set of skills that can only be acquired by study and practice.
Bad translation can kill
The media is full of example of bad translations. While most of them make us laugh, there have been cases where an incorrect translation proved to be a matter of life and death. Nine years ago, in a hospital in France, four men died after having been subjected to radiation treatment against prostate cancer. The problem was that the medical staff translated the software that established the dosage themselves. If they had at least considered proofreading, such a tragedy would have been avoided.
Legal matters are no laughing matters
In a recent case, when a certain translation agency employed unqualified interpreters for the MoJ contract, the defendant was told he was a “pervert”, when the accusation was that of “perverting the course of justice”. Not exactly the same thing, right?
Google can leave you red-faced
On a more positive note, let me tell you how a Google translated greeting embarrassed me. On one of my friend’s birthday, I really wanted to say something nice to her in her mother tongue (she is Polish). Not knowing a word in Polish, I thought I could get away with using Google translate. This resulted in me wishing her a wonderful wedding and happy marriage (she is single). She obviously found it hilarious and could not stop laughing. I did join her in the end, but not before turning red and feeling embarrassed.
Speaking of the word embarrassed, there is a word in Spanish that sounds very similar, but with a totally different meaning – embarazada (pregnant). You can imagine the horror of this poor teenage girl’s parents (native Spanish speakers, but living in the UK; the girl speaks Spanish, but considers English her mother tongue) when instead of telling them she was embarrassed, she said she was pregnant.
Some translations are so bad that they are funny
The website www.engrish.com has loads of examples of bad translations that should have been best left to professionals. Here’s just one example.
We’d love to hear about your experience with bad translations.