Last week, I received an email that made me smile. It wasn’t a bad translation, but it did contain an unfortunate grammatical error.

The company was offering to help me with my sales strategy, and the email ended with, “We could you help”, instead of, “We could help you”. The effect of this mistake was to make me fixate on the mistake. I couldn’t actually remember anything else in the email, and the intention of whoever sent it was lost. It did brighten up my morning though.

Apart from the fact that the reaction elicited by these mistakes is different from that intended by the writer, it leads to a loss of credibility and even money. In some cases, these losses can be significant.

I often look at text when I’m out and about, call it a professional tick. I observe text used in adverts and shop logos. I even look at the letters in car registration plates to see what words I can make with their letters. I am a wordsmith, after all.

Amusing translations

Sometimes, translations can be amusing because they miss the mark. This can happen for many reasons. It can occur because the writer has used a “false friend”. These are words or sentences in different languages that look or sound similar but differ significantly in meaning, according to Wikipedia.  It can also happen because a translator has rushed a translation, used an automatic translator or not thoroughly checking a finished piece of work.

Here are some examples:

  • The sign for a public toilet in Spanish, “caballeros”, was translated as “knights” in English, instead of “gents” or “men”.
  • The Catalan label on a Cava bottle sported the translation “semi-cec”, meaning half-blind, instead of “semi-sec”, meaning medium-dry. Both words are pronounced the same.
  • The label on a garment said it was made in “Pavo”, which means the bird “turkey” in Spanish, rather than the country “Turquía”. This is one of my favourites.

Our attention

When we come across poor translations on websites or leaflets, we focus on the mistakes and don’t pay attention to the overall message. It has a not-being-able-to-see-the-wood-for-the-trees effect, and we fixate on the amusing turn of phrase or mistake.

At the same time, depending on the type of mistake, the website or leaflet loses credibility, and we are unable to take it seriously.

Translations done with Google Translate can be great in an emergency, and they can help us understand the content of a document or website, but never trust them completely. And never user Google Translate without fully checking the finished piece. It’s essential to check all translations.

Just like when we were at school, and teachers recommended that we always check our work before handing in an exam, translations need time and they need to be checked thoroughly.

At LocalizationLab, we have a fail-safe method. We never deliver a translation to a client unless it has been thoroughly checked by a second linguist, in addition to the translator. This is an essential part of our process. Our years of experience have taught us a great deal, and we strive to produce top quality translations.

What about you? Is work well done important to you?

(*) Photo by Ben White on Unsplash