Will Facebook Own Crowdsourced Translation?

On Tuesday, the Baltimore Sun noted that Facebook has applied for a patent for its crowdsourced translation application. The app, which has been in use since early last year, has helped Facebook quickly and efficiently translate its pages into different languages. Here’s how it works: the application presents text that needs to be translated to users who are able to translate it. Different users’ translations of the same text are then put up against each other, and other members vote on which one of the translations is the most accurate.

TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid has some concerns about Facebook’s patent application. Many other sites also use crowdsourced translations, and those sites could be in jeopardy if Facebook’s patent is approved. As Kincaid explains,

“Now it’s up to the patent office to decide if the techniques employed by these other sites will represent prior art that would nullify Facebook’s patent. And you can be sure that’s what many people are hoping for — it would be highly frustrating for social networks down the line if they can’t leverage their own communities the way Facebook has.”

Of course, crowdsourced translations may be quick and efficient, but as some bilingual commenters on TechCrunch noted, the quality of the translations is often inconsistent. For example, commenter Viclava wrote that it took about a year before the Spanish version of Facebook was “readable” and relatively free of grammatical errors.

Hopefully, Facebook doesn’t end up owning the patent on crowdsourced translations for social networks. Crowdsourced translations can be a powerful tool to quickly and cheaply translate content into another language, and this is definitely valuable. However, in many cases it’s important that the content be translated flawlessly the first time. If your brand or image depends on a perfect translation, it’s best to go ahead and spring for a professional translation company.

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Translation Gone Wrong: 7 Big Translation Fails from 2016 

2016 is over halfway gone. Let’s look back at some of this year’s best examples of translation gone wrong  (so far).  This year, we have a little bit of everything, from menu translations that will kill your appetite to translation gaffes from major political candidates. Here are the biggest and funniest translation fails of 2016!

Translation Gone Wrong: In the Darkest Depths of Mordor Russia…


Who knew Led Zeppelin’s 1969 hit Ramble On was actually an ode to Russian girls? Well, you might have thought so, anyway, if you’d been using Google Translate to translate from Ukrainian into Russian in January 2016.  A glitch caused the service to translate “Russia” into “Mordor,” the fictional home of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.

According to the BBC, the error came about due to a flurry of internet chatter following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Online commentators in Ukraine began referring to Russia as “Mordor,” and  Google Translate picked up on it.

Translation Gone Wrong:  Fashion Brands Monkey Around in China

2016 was the Year of the Monkey, and Western fashion brands tried hard to cash in with special monkey-related merchandise. Unfortunately, some of their efforts got lost in translation. Consider, as seen in Business Insider, the “creepy” gold-finished and rhinestone-studded monkey necklace offered by Louis Vuitton, or the cartoonish red-and-gold monkey keychain offered by Dior. Both were trashed on Chinese fashion blogs. So was a Givenchy “Year of the Monkey” T-shirt which featured what Chinese fashion blogger Gogoboi called “orangutans” in eyeshadow. (I think it’s actually a pair of baboons, but his point still stands. Traditional Chinese monkeys are usually macaques or gibbons. Baboons live in Africa.)

The moral of this story? Don’t think that designing to make a cultural reference will generate enough goodwill amongst consumers that they won’t care how ugly your merchandise is! Read more

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.” Read more

10 Hilarious Christmas Translation Fails

Christmas has come and gone. This year, we’re taking a look back and reviewing the funniest Christmas-themed translation fails for your amusement. Sit back, pour yourself a cup of tea, and check out these hilarious Christmas translation errors.

Throll the Ancient Yuletide Carol










It’s the most wonderfully throlling time of the year.

What happened to Mrs. Claus?

I was under the impression Santa Claus already HAD a wife?


All’s fair between consenting adults . . .



But for most people, celebrating Christmas with “the family, the lover and the friend” sounds like it could get awkward rather quickly.


Have an Erotic Christmas!

“Eros” and “Christmas” . . . Two words that don’t go together unless you’re marketing adult products.  And is it just me, or does that reindeer have murder in its eyes?


The Santa Chicken?

We’ve all heard of Santa Claus, but what about the Santa Chicken?  Does he leave buckets of fried chicken in your stocking?

As hilarious as this billboard is, it’s actually a testament to the international marketing genius of Kentucky Fried Chicken. They got off to a rough start in China, where their famous slogan “Finger-licking good” was mistranslated as “Eat Your Fingers Off.” However, they’re now the most popular fast food chain in China.

Meanwhile, KFC fried chicken has become a traditional Christmas dinner in Japan. Around 3.6 million Japanese families celebrate the holiday with buckets of extra crispy chicken marinated in the Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices. The tradition was started by KFC Japan’s first CEO in 1974, who marketed a family-sized fried chicken meal as “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii: Kentucky for Christmas.”  Nobody in Kentucky actually eats fried chicken for Christmas, mind you, but it caught on in Japan.  And judging by the billboard, it’s spread to South Korea as well.


Close, but no cigar. . .

Here comes Santa Close, Here comes Santa Close . . . Wait, that’s not quite right, is it?


Dying is hard, translation is harder.

Is Die Hard your favourite Christmas franchise? Check out these hilarious Die Hard translations:

  • Die Hard: With a Vengeance was translated as Die Hard: Mega Hard in Denmark.
  • In one of the foreign versions of Die Hard 2, the line “You’ll get the pink slip for Christmas” is translated as “you’ll get red underpants in Santa Claus’ stocking.” The translator thought “pink slip” referred to women’s undergarments. Actually, it’s an Americanism for losing one’s job.

Some things are better left unsaid.

In 1991, the Swedish company Locum sent out a Christmas card to their customers. In the card, they debuted a new logo: the company name, in lower case letters, with a heart replacing the “o.”

For English speaking customers, the result was rather unfortunate:

I’m sure you see the problem here.

Ham for Hanukkah?

Holiday translation fails aren’t limited to Christmas. Retail stores courting Jewish customers in the United States sometimes make facepalm-worthy blunders.

For example, in 2007, a grocery store in Greenwich Village, New York, became internet-famous when it advertised its ham as “Delicious for Chanukah.”

We shouldn’t need to spell this out, but pork in all of its many forms is a no-no for observant Jews.

Hanukkah, Hannibal Lecter-style

In 2015, fashion retailer Lord and Taylor published a Hanukkah greeting in the New York Times. Unfortunately, something got lost in translation, and the result was quite ghoulish. As the Times of Israel reports:

The message, in Hebrew, was supposed to read “Happy Hanukkah holiday,” but by consistently printing the letter ת or tav instead of the letter ח or het, the text instead translated roughly as “the tag of her earlobe that died.”

Not sure how this made it past the proofreader, or if a last-minute change in font was the culprit. Either way, it’s not the impression you want to leave in a major newspaper, is it?

Was the Virgin Birth the original Christmas translation fail?

Some translators argue that the idea of the Virgin Birth is actually a translation fail. For example, according to Katharina Reiss,  a German linguist and translation scholar:

The Virgin Birth and Virgin Mary are, pardon the pun, pregnant with social symbolic significance in most, if not all, parts of the world . . . And yet their birth is due to a relatively simple mistake in translation. The Old Testament talks about almah ‘young woman,’ not bethulah ‘virgin.’ However, the scholars in the 3rd century BC translated the Hebrew almah as parthenos in Greek. Thus the ‘young woman’ in Hebrew metamorphosed into a ‘virgin’ in Greek—and she has remained a virgin ever since in translations across the world. The notion of ‘virgin birth’ was born, thanks to a mistranslation.

Don’t want to get coal in your stocking (or alienate your customers during a busy shopping season?) Make sure your translations are correct and culturally appropriate by partnering with a reputable translation agency like K International.

We offer translation, transcreation and consulting services so you can be sure your holiday marketing hits all the right notes everywhere you do business, in more than 250 languages. For more information, take a look at our language services and feel free to contact us.

For everyone who celebrated, we hope you had a Merry Christmas! And if you see any other Christmas translation fails, feel free to share them in the comments.

Bloomberg’s Warnings Lost in Translation

New York City has had one heck of a week. First, a mild earthquake shook the city. Then, just a few days later, Hurricane Irene blew in from the Caribbean. Luckily, the city dodged a bullet when the storm weakened before it struck land.

As New York breathed a sigh of relief and began to clean up Irene’s mess, one way people coped with the ensuing aggravation was through humor – and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a prime target.

You see, New York is a diverse city, and the two most commonly spoken languages are English and Spanish. To make sure the Spanish-speaking inhabitants were kept informed of the safety measures the city was taking, Mayor Bloomberg summarized them in Spanish. That’s definitely a nice gesture, but as you can see from the video below, young Mr. Bloomberg probably wasn’t the teacher’s pet in Spanish class:

Note the person laughing in the background and the decidedly uncomfortable expressions on the faces of the men behind him in the video.

Read more

Talking Business: How to Avoid a Translation Fail

Some phrases just don’t translate-especially when you are relying on a computer to do the heavy lifting. The International Trade website has published a list of English business phrases that don’t translate well, and it illustrates this point beautifully.

Take, for example, the common English expression “give me a ballpark figure.” Translated into Russian literally, as a computer would do it, you get “Give to me the diagram of the baseball stadium.” Unless you’re in the baseball stadium construction business, that simply won’t do. In Spanish, “We’ll hit the ground running” turns into a phrase that brings to mind an action movie: “We will strike the earth operation.” The best of the bunch is probably the literal Chinese translation of the phrase “We need to get our ducks in a row.” Once translated, it becomes “We need to obtain our duck continuously.” What?!?!

So, how do you avoid sounding like an idiot when you deal with foreign clients? The best course of action is to avoid machine translation if at all possible-it simply isn’t reliable enough yet. If you do need to use machine translation for a business project, write in simple language, avoiding metaphors, figurative language, jargon and colloquial expressions.

Richard Brooks, General Manager of UK based translation firm K International, has the following advice for UK businesses:

“Idioms are common place in workplaces across Britain and its fine (within reason) to use them in your local marketing activities. The tricky part comes in when you need to translate that message for use in another region.

Computers (at the moment) simply cannot understand the real meaning behind these idioms. For copy, that when translated is intended to convert potentially interested parties into sales revenue then a real human being must be used in the translation process.

For the best results recreating your message for use in another country a service such as transcreation should be used which includes incountry testing and cultural focus groups.

Get it right and you’ll have a winning marketing campaign that will spread like wildfire (excuse the idiom) in the blogs and social media networks, get it wrong and people will think you’re an idiot”

Assuming you have a competent interpreter, human-powered translation is always superior because human interpreters recognize expressions like these and know how to translate them appropriately to convey the correct meaning.

President Trump, In Translation

T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest month. But not for professional translators and interpreters who specialize in news and politics. In 2016, the cruelest month was probably November, when they (along with the rest of the world) came to the horrifying realization that they would be stuck with Donald Trump for at least the next four years.

We’ve written about some of the reasons Donald Trump is hard to translate: the word salad, the vulgarity, the words that don’t quite make sense. But now that he’s actually, officially the president of the United States,  the stakes are higher. And if you thought that becoming President meant Trump would put down Twitter and be more mindful of his speech, you would be incorrect.

So, here’s a quick recap of how translators and interpreters are coping with Trump’s first week as president:

Interpreters to Trump: Finish Your Sentences, Man!donald_trump_swearing_in_ceremony

Unless he’s reciting a pre-written speech, Trump’s speaking style could charitably be described as “stream of consciousness.” It’s like he starts talking about a topic and then takes a detour all the way from the Shire to Mt. Doom, often leaving the original thought unfinished.

As Christiane Abel, a French professor and interpreter for the US State Department, told the LA Times:

“There are several things that make an interpreter’s life easy. When people finish their sentences …  the syntax is well-structured … when the speaker starts speaking and you kind of understand where the person is going, you can kind of decode the underlying thought.”

That’s not Trump. And while the lamentations of French translators have attracted the most media attention, French is far from the only language in which it is difficult to translate new President. For example,  as  Japanese translator Agness Kaku explained to the Washington Post:

English is a subject-prominent language — understanding a sentence in English involves pinning down who or what the subject is. Japanese, on the other hand, requires tracking the topic of a conversation.

In Trump’s remarks, Kaku said, the subject is very easy to keep track of — “it’s about him, it’s about the enemy.” But the actual topic or point of his sentences is often difficult to grasp, complicating Japanese translations. “It just drifts,” she said. “You end up having to guess as a translator, which isn’t very good. You shouldn’t have to guess.”

Read more

Translation Errors In Free Trade Agreement

In February, the European Union approved a new free trade agreement with South Korea.  However, the pact sparked a controversy in South Korea after Korean lawyer Song Ki-ho uncovered numerous translation errors and discrepancies between the English language version of the agreement and the Korean one.

According to the Korea Times, some of the translation errors were quite significant. For example, the English version of a section on licensing for architects says that architects licensed in Europe can become licensed in Korea by passing a simplified exam only. The Korean version says that architects must have 5 years of experience and an exam, as per existing Korean law. According to Mr. Song, if left uncorrected this could have led to European architects being able to get Korean architect’s licenses more quickly and easily than Korean architects. Read more

Lost in Translation: 2 Cuban Pitchers

In the World Baseball Classic, an error in translation caused the Cuban baseball team to lose two of its top relief pitchers for their game against Mexico on Monday, March 16th.

According to the New York Times, in the World Baseball Classic, the official rules are always in English. However, an ‘unofficial’ Spanish translation was provided to the teams from Mexico and Cuba. Unfortunately, whoever translated the Spanish version made a minor error that demonstrates how important accuracy in translation can be.

According to the rules, relievers are not allowed to pitch the day after they throw thirty or more pitches. In Spanish, “30 or more” is translated as “trienta o mas.” The translator translated the phrase as “mas que trienta,” which means “more than thirty.”

Based on the translation, the Cuban coach pulled his two best relief pitchers out of Sunday’s game against Japan after they had each thrown exactly 30 pitches.

The goal was to keep the pitchers available for the game against Mexico on Monday, since they would have exactly 30 pitches, not “more than 30 pitches.” However, since the English document is the ‘official’ document, the two pitchers were disqualified.

Gene Orza, the World Baseball Classic player’s union’s chief operation officer, offered this assessment of the situation:

“It was a mistranslation — a mistranslation of what in English are very clear rules,” Orza said. “It’s a very unfortunate situation. But the English rules are the controlling document. We feel terribly that in trying to do a good thing something bad happened.”

“They were clearly very unhappy with the situation, but they did understand it,” Orza said of the Cuban officials. “I am eternally grateful for the class that Cuba showed. I think it’s fair to say we will endeavour to have an official Spanish rules document prepared for next time.” -New York Times

This may have actually worked out to Cuba’s benefit, since those pitchers had some extra rest before Wednesday’s elimination game. However, it wasn’t enough-Cuba played Japan again and lost.

A Bounty on Engrish

Visitors to South Korea, take note. The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has set a bounty on the awkward, low-quality translations known as “Engrish.” These malapropisms are a prime source of amusement for tourists abroad in Asian countries (see The Top 10 Asian English Translation Failures for examples), but locals are generally somewhat embarrassed by their existence. Plus, when you’re a tourist trying to navigate a foreign country, mistranslations don’t help.

It’s understandable, then, that the KTO would make it a priority to improve the quality of translations available to tourists. What’s interesting is the way in which they are going about it. As CNNGo reports, from now until December 14th, you can go to the Visit Korea website and submit pictures of translation mistakes from any tourist site in South Korea. When you do, you’ll be entered to win the Korean equivalent of a $45 gift card, accepted anywhere credit cards are taken. Read more