Think before you Ink – Tattoo Translation

Published 24th October 2017
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Tattoo translation is in demand at Lingua Translations and we regularly get requests for Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew translations and now and again, Gaelic.

As expected, many of the requests tend to be philosophical or simply personal to the person on the receiving end of the needle, and the translator’s task would be to translate the text into the equivalent in the other language. However, equivalent does not mean literal translation, which is all too common and could be catastrophic for the person having the tattoo. Examples of translations we have carried out at Lingua Translations include ‘Sisters Forever’ into Scottish Gaelic and ‘Love’ into Traditional Chinese characters, as well as ‘Forever in my Heart’ into Hindi.

Obviously our process involves working with professional linguists who know what the equivalents are in the other language, and who only translate into their native language, ensuring that the tattoo reads exactly what it means. There are some hilarious examples of translation errors which have resulted in a red face at the end!‘diarrhea’ inked on their arm rather than ‘prosperity’. AND they were informed of this whilst in a Chinese herbal medicine shop. Embarrassing? To say the least!

Even though there are some awful tattoo mistranslations, there are also English spelling blunders which do make you wonder, such as ‘Life go’s on’ , ‘It’s get better’ and ‘streangth’.

If you think about it, a business would not get someone other than a qualified translator to translate their website or documents, but those are elements of translation that can easily be changed, at a cost, but they are not permanent. Tattoos ARE and you would be a fool to think a tattoo artist is a linguist too, a linguist of many languages for that matter!

We encourage people thinking about getting inked to get their tattoo translation checked before proceeding any further…after all a tattoo is for life!


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Ian Chapman – Director of Holiday Experience –

“Lingua Translations provides instant multi-lingual options for TUI’s 24/7 Holidayline, so 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year TUI’s customers are connected to an interpreter instantaneously. This service is designed to help holidaymakers who find themselves in difficulty and require non-English language assistance.

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