Gigantic ‘slip-up’ in translation

October 26, 2011 by admin

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I laughed my socks off (or should that be slippers off?!) recently when a colleague  brought in an article from the Metro newspaper about a guy who had ordered some slippers from Hong Kong, and due to a translation error received a 7ft long piece of footwear, instead of the size 14.5 slipper he’d originally ordered. The Chinese factory, where the custom-made slippers were produced, was blamed for mixing up the decimal point in translating the order. Whilst a giant slipper is a humorous outcome of a translation error, and provides good entertainment for all and sundry, the realities of many translation mistakes are in stark contrast.

Confusing a decimal point or a comma for example in some European languages could prove disastrous. Although it could be a very easy mistake to make if the translator is unfamiliar with numerical conventions, if a comma was kept as such instead of a decimal point, for example 1,000 in English should be 1.000 in French, and if such numbers were in a pharmaceutical translation relating to dosages of a drug the consequences could be catastrophic- and in some cases has led to the death of patients. Such errors or mistranslations in instructions for surgical procedures, for example, have led to large court cases and insurance claims, not to mention physical pain.

Having a look on the internet for translation blunders has thrown up the fact that it’s not just self-acclaimed and ‘professional’ translators that have caused these mistakes. Translation can be an expensive commodity and, in order to cut back on costs, many companies will try and handle the translations of potentially ‘volatile’ material themselves.   Not only does successful translation require a thorough and in-depth knowledge of both source and target languages, but also the cultural implications of the text. It always amazes me how so many businesses risk embarrassment and, indeed, potential law suits in sticking to DIY translations. I would definitely advise leaving it to the professionals!

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