Translation Fails

Magazine Illustrates Language Expert’s Article With Bungled Translations

Adam Wooten, a translation expert with Globalization Group, was pleased when a local magazine published an article he wrote about the importance of obtaining accurate, professional translations for companies doing business overseas.

He became much less pleased, however, when he received a copy of the magazine and skimmed over the article. Someone at the magazine had decided to “enhance” the article by translating the title, “Lost Into Translation”, into several different languages. In the Deseret News, Wooten writes:

“I became concerned when I saw large, bright, red text splashed across both pages in six languages. Where did these multilingual phrases originate? I knew Globalization Group, the translation company where I work, had not provided any translations…something about them did not look right.”

Yep, you guessed it. The magazine’s staff, perhaps operating under the tyranny of the deadline, had simply plugged the title into Google Translate. Even worse, since Google Translate’s database includes translated material like movie titles, the Chinese characters the magazine ended up using actually meant “Lost Tokyo,” which is the title that the 2003 Bill Murray movie “Lost in Translation” was released under in China. Whoops!

It’s hard not to laugh at the irony, especially since over-reliance on tools like Google Translate is one of the things that Wooten warns about in the article, which someone on the magazine’s design team apparently didn’t read very closely.  Of course, the situation is less funny for Wooten, who now has to worry about clients who might think that the faulty translations came from his company instead of from the bowels of Google Translate’s database.

Machine translation may be free, but Wooten correctly explains its limitations in a deliciously sarcastic response to the offending magazine:

“While useful for some situations, like getting the “gist” of low-value, user-generated text on a social-networking site, machine translation is usually not appropriate for legally and financially sensitive information, marketing text that attracts and retains customers or — hypothetically speaking — magazine articles that explain how to obtain high-quality human translation to preserve brand strength.”

So remember, if you’re playing on Facebook or Twitter, machine translation is fine – but leave the important stuff to the professionals!

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