Translation Bloopers

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Translation Bloopers

Note that these photos are for use only as part of presentations with the Client Outreach Kit.

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1.  “Assisi sign”(Italian/English)
Phonetic renderings of standard words and phrases are often a sign of non-native speakers without formal training in the target language at work. Here a sign in a parking lot in Assisi, Italy, warns car-owners to pay the price or face "sunction[s] according what prescribed by traffic low”…
2.  “Ikea Bed” (Swedish/German)
A few years back, Swedish furniture and housewares giant Ikea launched a children's bunk bed across Europe under the name "Gutvik.” "It's a small town in Sweden," explained an embarrassed company representative to the German press, for whom a phonetic transcription means "good fuck.” Advertisements and store posters were promptly withdrawn.
3.  “LaverAlaMain” (English/French)
This notice on the bottom of a ceramic dish indicates that it should be washed by hand. ("Handwashing recommended" is awkward and can be understood two ways, yet “wash by hand” seems to be the logical option). The French reads “[Users] are advised to wash their hands”. Perhaps the translator didn’t know what the sentence was to be used for?
4 & 5. “London Crimestopper” street signs (English and Spanish)
Signs produced by the London Metropolitan Police and CrimeStoppers, an independent charity dedicated to making the streets safer. The English reads: “Pickpockets beware! Undercover police working in this area! In July three pickpockets received sentences of over four years!” In a campaign targeting light-fingered foreigners, the same warning appears in Spanish on a placard a few lampposts away, but a software program translated it. The result, rendered back into English, reads, roughly: “The pickpockets are kept. Police of the inner deck that works in the area. In July three the pickpockets received prayers of the prison over of four years.”
6.  “Max Planck Institut brothel ad” (Chinese)
The Max Planck Institute is one of Germany’s top scientific institutions. For a special issue on research in China published in Dec. 2008, it printed what it thought was a “classical poem” on the cover (a text that certainly looks Chinese to the non-Chinese speaker). The editing team didn’t realize that the text they chose was a handbill for a Macau strip club (“hot housewives in action!” / “enchanting and coquettish performance”). If you don't speak the language, you really can't tell what you are getting.
7.  “Niagara Falls sign” (English/French)
This sign was posted on the Ontario side of the falls. It warns passengers disembarking from the tour boat to take care. The French is garbled (translated word for word), and was probably produced either through a dictionary look-up by a non-native speaker or by computer software. For years, amused French-speaking tourists took photos of it to show their friends but no one bothered informing the boat operators. Message: you won’t necessarily be told by foreign readers if your text is laughably bad.
8.   “Obama typo” (English)
Screen capture from a recent newscast — a reminder that spelling errors can be jarring even to a native speaker, and even if you understand what the speaker is trying to say. For a reader who is not a fluent speaker of the language, mistakes can interfere with understanding. In this photo, the spelling errors probably resulted from time pressure (no time to proofread). Note that self-proclaimed “bilinguals” are often not that good at spelling and grammar, even if they speak quite fluently.
9.  “Reset button” (English/Russian)
In early March 2009, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a gift-wrapped plastic “reset button” (“let’s reset our relationship”) to her Russian counterpart,  Sergey Lavrov. Problem: her team chose the wrong word for the Russian term, writing “overcharged” instead (peregruzka). Advice: always have a qualified translator check work first, especially if you invite the media to your event.
10.  “Sort of garlic” (Hebrew/English)
A food label that speaks for itself: Hebrew original (“choice fresh ginger”) with an illustration of ginger root. The English reads “Fresh garlic”. Cause of problem? Perhaps typesetter didn’t understand English and looked up the wrong term (or saw “fresh” and thought it was the term). No project management/coordination or the mistake would have been caught before printing.

11.  “Stranger wine” (French/English)
Grocery store banner/awning in Paris, translated by the store owner. The French referred to “foreign wines” but the word étranger also means “stranger” or unknown person. The sign-maker picked the wrong definition.
12.  “Meat Heat Beat” (French/English)
A big French supermarket put up bilingual signs to help visiting tourists find products. Two store employees produced the signs by looking up terms in a pocket dictionary.  Viande is French for meat; “beat” is a typo. In another part of the store, meat is translated as “heat” (another slip of the finger). The spell checker on their computer saw no problem.
 13.  “Bank of England” scam letter (English)
“Important announcements” full of grammar and spelling mistakes are often a sign of fraudsters at work. This letter speaks for itself. (Of course major banks don’t use Yahoo or Hotmail accounts for important announcements, either).
Lesson for translation buyers: a bona fide business that communicates with potential clients using sloppy/unprofessional translations risks projecting the same dubious image as the gang that concocted this letter.
14 & 15. “Phishing 1 and 2” (English)
Two more examples of ungrammatical texts/translations that are a sure sign of fraud (see no. 13 above). Poor translations done by a well-meaning non-professional can raise doubts in potential customers’ minds about even a legitimate business enterprise.