Bad translation in the public eye

Published 1st November 2012
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Translation is not always straightforward and sometimes a finished translation, particularly in an area such as literature, can sound very strange indeed. The role of the translator is hotly debated , particularly in this field, because whilst some say that you should stay as ‘true’ to the original text as possible, even if the target text sounds as though it is a translation, others believe in the “invisibility of the translator”, which calls for all evidence of a translator being as the middle-man between two texts to be erased.

Then however, there are just bad translations. These instances can be embarrassing for the company who has used the translated content in their marketing, on a product or in communication with another company perhaps. Whatever the situation, an incorrect translation can be disastrous because of the impression it leaves on the reader. Many are amusing, so no real harm is done, however it is not always the desired effect.

Some excellent examples of where translation has gone wrong is in gaming. Computer and console games have a vast, world-wide audience speaking a number of different languages. It makes sense therefore to localise your software into these languages to entice more players onto the field. However, what happens when the translation is bad?

Take the game “Ghosts n Goblins” for example, a translation of the original Japanese into English, provided the amusing yet totally inaccurate farewell “Congratulation. This story is happy end. Thank you. Being the wise and courageour knight that you are you feel strongth welling. In your body. Return to starting point. Challenge again!” (source tvtropes,org).

This does not really affect how well the game plays but it can certainly give the player a negative impression of the producer. Fortunately in these instances, players usually just poke fun at the odd expression in English and move on but in other types of media and marketing, is it a more serious matter?

There have been instances where names of products have been translated into other languages with no regard for the cultural connotations. When translating, it is not just a case of finding the best equivalent of a word in another language, it is also a case of ensuring that the chosen translation does not have another meaning in the country it is being translated for – especially if it might be offensive! This is yet another argument for translation to only be carried out by a native speaker of the target language and one who is up to date on the modern language through living in the country!

How can a company be sure of representing their product or themselves effectively in other countries if they are not working with translators who are fully qualified and produce excellent quality translation?

Do you have any examples of bad translations in the media?

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procter-gamble - Lingua Translations 114 × 92
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The-Score 232x120
M & S 271 × 186
Walmart-Lingua Translations 232 × 65
Welsh Government & Lingua Translations 400 × 400
Costco & Lingua Translations 232 × 155


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