Understanding what someone is saying is of the highest importance in any circumstance. It could even be a small mistake that has far reaching consequences for the party involved. Whether its voice overs, subtitles, text or even tattoos - the world is filled with unfortunate errors that could have been prevented with the right expertise, thought and judgement. Below are just a few examples of the aforementioned issues arising and having consequences for all within earshot, especially for those making the blunder.
I’m not in the office at the moment…
All official road signs in Wales are bilingual, so the local authority e-mailed its in-house translation service for the Welsh of: "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only". Unfortunately for them, the translators weren’t in at work and an automatic email that was beamed back came in as the Welsh translation of "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated". This text was promptly misunderstood as the translation itself and put onto the sign beneath the English. Citizens in Wales promptly took photos and mocked the sign resulting in it quickly being taken down in the middle of the night never to be seen again… If only experts had been involved.
The Emperor's New Tattoo
Proud of your tattoo that incorporates Asian characters? Has your friend recently been bragging about the latest addition to their skin? The web is stuffed with examples that supposedly contain a heartfelt or spiritual message in an Eastern dialect but are in actuality terrible, nonsensical babble when translated. One prominent example involves a tattoo that was meant to be the initials of a son and a daughter in Chinese on the back of their neck – unfortunately for the bearer the literal English turned out to be “Place, Dog”. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the number of tattoos that are something very different to what the customer thinks they are. In a lot of cases these are contradictory, vulgar and could’ve been avoided had they just opted to check with a language professional just what it was they were paying money to have inked onto themselves.
"Do Something" next time
In 2009, the HSBC bank had to fork out $10 million for a large-scale clean-up and rebranding campaign to repair the damage created when its catchphrase "Assume Nothing" was mistranslated as "Do Nothing" in various countries. Needless to say, it was an expensive mistake that only set them back and had the opposite effect of what was originally desired.
Voice Acting in the Gaming Industry
History is littered with several examples of video games developers that made the wrong choice when it came to localizing their games into English (usually) from Japanese. Developers often do not understand audiences outside their own country and when they attempt to have the voice over recording taken care of in house, it does not export well at all and results in embarrassment for everyone involved. The result has commonly meant instructions in game confusing the player and frustrating fans as they tried to accomplish something that would otherwise be a simple task.
Reset, or Overload?
Mistranslations aren’t restricted to entertainment or advertising either. When relations are fragile, it’s of the utmost importance that the context and meaning of a statement is understood correctly and as intended. When interpreted wrong, they can potentially endanger relations on both a local and international level. In 2009, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton handed her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a “reset button” to signify a new phase in their dialogue. Unfortunately for Clinton and the US, the Russian translation on the button did not mean “reset” but actually translated to “overload”. Thankfully the Russian minister found the situation amusing and corrected the translation himself, but it doesn’t inspire confidence when even at this level the expertise is not resolute.