Google Translate Vs. Sir Mix-a-lot, RuPaul Gets Lost in Translation, and More: 10 Language Stories to Read Right Now

Happy Monday! Looking for something to read while you readjust to the working world? Here are 10 interesting, funny or thought-provoking stories from the language and translation world to make you seem like the most interesting person in the room:

ET, Phone Home 

If extraterrestrials ever make contact, how in the world would we speak to them? According to Carl DeVito, a math professor at the University of Arizona, mathematics might be the key to communicating with ET. And he’s developed a math-based language that could, in theory, allow us to discuss physics with an alien race.

Japanese Prisoners Get a Translation Upgrade

Even prisoners deserve help in their own language. But deploying interpreters efficiently can be difficult. Japan is addressing the issue by providing prisoners access to translation services using video phones and tablets. This will also make it easier for families of non-Japanese inmates to visit their loved ones since they are not allowed in without an interpreter to help prison officials monitor their conversation.

Baby Got What? Google Translate Mixes Up Sir Mix-A-Lot On the Tonight Show


What happens when Google Translate gets hold of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s classic “Baby Got Back?” Somehow, “I love big butts and I cannot lie” becomes “I love large saplings that is the truth . . .”

And that’s just the beginning. Watch the video to see Jimmy Fallon and Idris Elba sing Google Translated versions of songs by Sir Mix-a-Lot, Britney Spears, and Boyz II Men.

RuPaul, Lost in Translation


Earlier this year, Netflix debuted its Hermes program, inviting users to become paid translators.

The Next Web wrote about it and was flooded with comments from professional translators describing how challenging the work can be, and airing concerns about the “translation test” used to find qualified candidates.

And here’s a good example of why they were concerned: A Portuguese subtitler had some difficulty with RuPaul’s drag race catchphrase “Sashay away,” which doesn’t rhyme when translated into Portuguese.

The subtitler’s solution was to use “Adeus, vai-te embora, ninguem te adora.” That rhymes, but it translates to  “Bye, go home, no one loves you.” Rude!

Translation Challenge: How would you translate “Sashay away” into Portuguese? Let us know in the comments!

Ever wondered what Fido is thinking? Dog translation devices may be coming soon

Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking? Or why exactly he insists on eating poop?

Soon, you may be able to ask him. According to a new report from Amazon, “pet translation devices” could be as little as 10 years away. We can only hope they’re more accurate than Google Translate!

Another Google Translate fail

And here’s another example of what happens when you try to save money with Google Translate, this time from Croatia.

The Podgora Tourist Board trusted Google for a poster listing the cultural events in the town over the summer. They got ridiculed in return. The poster was full of errors, awkward phrasing, and incorrect translations. Most notably, the song title “Oče duša izvan tila,” which means “The Soul Wants to Leave the Body,” translated to “Father’s soul is outside his body.”

These Middle Eastern Startups make translation tech for the deaf. 

There’s no shortage of apps and technology to help deaf people communicate with the hearing world. But most of them rely on the deaf person being able to read. But where does that leave deaf people in developing countries, who often don’t receive formal schooling?

Enter this group of startups from the Middle East, with apps and technology to make translate words into sign language, translate sign language into words, and improve access to video calls.

Greece’s whistled language may soon be gone with the wind.

Sfyria, the secret whistled language of the Greek town of Antia, is down to 6 “speakers.” Sfyria is a whistled version of spoken Greek. It’s an ancient, enchanting code that’s perfect for communicating across mountains and keeping secrets from outsiders. And it’s currently the most endangered language in Europe.

Want to Learn High Valyrian? 

Now you can learn to speak like a Targaryen princess, courtesy of Duolingo.

Chinese Couple “in Shock” After Legal Translation Error 

Finally, we have a sobering reminder of the importance of getting translation right the first time. In Portugal, a Chinese couple is being charged with child neglect in the death of their 5-year-old daughter. The girl fell from a balcony after her parents left her alone in their hotel room to go gambling.

But a translation error in the Mandarin version of the charge sheet left the couple believing that they had not only been convicted but sentenced to death.

According to the couple’s lawyer, they are “in shock as while the death penalty is not applied in Portugal, it remains very much in practice in China.”

If you need accurate legal translations, come talk to our team!

Are there any language and translation stories we’ve missed over the past month? Share them in the comments!

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