5 Examples of Translations that Went Wrong

Unfortunately, bad translations are surprisingly common. You can find them almost everywhere. Just take a look around you: airport signs, food labels, product instructions, restaurant menus, guide books… the list goes on and on. This is why we decided to write this blog post and show you 5 examples of translations that went wrong.

Most of the time, this happens because the translation has not been done by an experienced translation company with professional translators; or, even worse, because it’s a machine translation (an online instant translator application). But one thing is certain: all bad translations will lead to problems, sooner or later.

That’s why, in this blog post, we will be highlighting some real-life examples of translations that went wrong and the consequences of those badly-translated texts for a company, a country, and even people’s lives.

Our five examples of translations that went wrong will forever change the way you see the translation business itself. Read them now.

Example #1:

“An urgent single-page text on innovative rail transport was given to a specialized translator, with a note specifying that it was for railway engineers. But a reviewer thought it was for a general audience and dumbed the translation down. Most of her “corrections” had to be un-done (with the clock ticking and the meter running).”*

One of the most important things a translator needs to know is who their readership will be. No translation can truly be good if the translator does not know what type of audience will be reading the finished work.

Example #2:

Here’s an example of how just one word can totally change the course of people’s lives. Of course, this is just a funny advertisement, but it’s easy to imagine something like this happening in real life.

Example #3:

Badly-translated Spanish instructions on bilingual labels forced a pharmaceutical company to recall 4.6 million cans of baby formula from the market. Following those badly translated instructions could have led to illness or even the death of some infants.*

Food and medicine labels are probably some of the most important texts a translator can come across. If the translated information is not accurate and precise, there could be very serious repercussions, as this example demonstrated.

Example #4:

In 2009, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister a “reset button”. However, the Russian-language label had the wrong word; instead of ‘reset.’ it said “overcharged”.

This was certainly a very embarrassing moment for the US Government, and one that could easily have been avoided. If the US had used a native Russian translator, the incident would never have happened.

Example #5:

“A California manufacturer of medical equipment sold a device in France without a French translation of the instructions for using it, wrongly assuming that all the operators would be fluent in English. In France, French language documentation is required by law. Far worse: patients died from radiation overdoses administered by poorly informed technicians.”*

As we said at the beginning of our blog post, translation is a very important and serious business; in some cases, the lack of a translation, or a poorly-translated text, can even lead to fatalities.

We hope these five examples of translations that went wrong have helped you understand why it is so important that professional translations are done by an experienced translation company or by a qualified professional translator. In either case, you will certainly be avoiding future problems.

(*Examples found at http://www.ttt.org/)

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