3 Iconic Science Fiction/Fantasy Scenes That Gave Translators Fits

When translating, one does not simply swap one word for another. Writers choose their words carefully, combining characteristics like sounds, sentence structure and meaning to create different effects. Often, what works in one language simply doesn’t work in another, and translators have to come up with creative solutions that preserve the impact of the original words.

Here are 3 iconic moments from fantasy and science fiction that probably gave their translators fits:

Game of Thrones: Hold the Door!


You may have seen this collection of images floating around the interwebs this week.  It shows how Game of Thrones translators dealt with the death of everyone’s favorite gentle giant, Hodor.  Just in case you missed it: it was revealed that Hodor was originally an intelligent, articulate stablehand named Wylis. An accident of time travel gave poor young Wylis a vision of his eventual death in the show, fending off undead long enough for his young charges Bran and Meera to escape. The vision caused a seizure that left Wylis brain-damaged, endlessly repeating “Hodor!,” a contracted version of “Hold the Door!”

Obviously, this was not an easy scene to translate, as the equivalent words for “Hold the door!” do not necessarily sound like “Hodor!” in other languages.

For example, the Dutch translators had it easy: DRVuUJB

The Italian translators had to get a bit more creative, changing “Hold the Door!” to “Block the horde!”:


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“Guardians of the Galaxy” Chinese Translation Fail 

You’d think that if you were distributing one of this year’s biggest blockbuster movies in a market the size of China, you’d be willing to spend the money to get a good Chinese translation.

Or not. Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” was released in China last week, and apparently the subtitles got lost in translation. China Daily called reception of the film “lukewarm,” citing poor translation as one reason:

Weibo user “Gudabaihua,” who has become popular for uploading and subtitling video clips on social media, said he hasidentified at least 80 translation mistakes in the Chinesesubtitles. “Aside from a lot of mistranslations, the subtitles failedto show the original feel of the movie, such as jokes, puns andhomophones. We cannot help but doubt the professionalism of the translator.”

A few of the highlights, via The Mary Sue:

  • When other characters insult Rocket by calling him “weasel” or “rodent,” the Chinese subtitles merely say “small raccoon.”
  • “We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, b***!” was translated “We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, slut!”
  • “Turd blossom” became “big face.”
  • “Pelvic sorcery” became “rhetoric sorcery.”
  • Instead of teaching people how to dance, Kevin Bacon teaches them how to “twist a**.”

Humor, jokes and puns are all notoriously difficult to translate into another language and another culture. However, it’s certainly not impossible. And when your product is entertainment, you can’t afford to have your translators miss the punchline.  Despite the errors, Wikipedia notes that China is the third-highest international market for the film — but how much better would it have done if Chinese viewers felt properly catered to?

Marketing messages, product packaging and other business communications can suffer from the same sorts of problems. That’s why it’s so important to get the job done right the first time. At K International, our experienced, professional translators translate your company’s voice into your customer’s language, so they can laugh with you (when applicable), not at you!

Photo Credit: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by theglobalpanorama

The Top 5 Star Trek Languages

This September, we’re celebrating two important birthdays. On the first of the month, K International turned 30. Meanwhile, September 7th was the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.  In honor of the latter occasion, let’s take a look at some of the most memorable Star Trek languages, and the alien races that speak them.


Spoken by: The Klingons TNG-redemption_worf_and_gowron

Klingon is the most famous of the Star Trek languages. It is a fully fledged constructed language, which means it has a set grammar, syntax and vocabulary.  You could learn it yourself, if you wanted to invest the time and impress the opposite gender at your local Star Trek convention.

Learning Klingon is not easy. Although the language only has 3,000 words, it was designed to be as different from most human languages as possible. It is guttural and harsh. And don’t expect it to be appreciated outside of your local Star Trek convention; actors speaking Klingon (as well as those around them) routinely have to have spittle wiped off of them between takes. Apparently, the Klingon race has never heard the saying “Say it, don’t spray it.”

There are an estimated 20-30 people who speak it fluently.  One man actually went so far as to try to raise his son as a bilingual Klingon native speaker, but it didn’t work.

You can read The Epic of Gilgamesh, HamletMuch Ado About Nothing and the Tao Te Ching in Klingon translations, and there is actually a Klingon version of A Christmas Carol. 

Want to learn more? Check out the Klingon Language Institute. Read more

Want to Learn Dothraki?

You can give a toast in Klingon. You can read poetry in Sindarin. What fantasy language should you learn next? Dothraki, of course! Thanks to a new online course, Game of Thrones fans can now follow in Daenerys’ footsteps by learning to speak the language of the Dothraki horse lords.

 The Dothraki course is being offered by Living Language, a language learning company that offers written and online courses “using techniques originally developed for the U.S. State Department.” The Dothraki course was developed with the help of David J. Peterson, co-founder of the Language Creation Society, who developed the language for the Game of Thrones TV series and works as a language creator and “alien culture consultant” for other fantasy/scifi shows. Basically, he has one of the coolest jobs on the planet.

You can choose from two different course options, depending on your desired level of proficiency. The Basic course costs $19.99, and will teach you how to pronounce words in Dothraki, how to construct sentences and how to say 200 different vocabulary words. The “expanded” online course costs $30.00 and gives you 500 vocabulary words, as well as more detailed guides to grammar and pronunciation, more ways to practice and more information about Dothraki culture. Finally, students in the either course have the option to buy a companion app for their smart phone, though there’s no word yet on which operating systems will be supported.

In a press release, Peterson said,

“I’m thrilled to be working with Living Language to produce the first official Dothraki text,” says Peterson. “This book will take you from arakh to zhavvorsa in no time, and the audio samples will help you perfect your pronunciation. I often get the question, ‘When will there be a Dothraki guide I can buy?’ The answer is now, thanks to Living Language. Me nem nesa!”

If you want to learn Dothraki but you don’t necessarily want to pay for it, you can always head over to, which has a full Dothraki dictionary, a wiki and forums available.

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by PatLoika