Seven Translation fails from the year 2017

To mark the end of 2017, I just thought to share with you seven of the silliest translation fails which I have come across on the web this last month of 2017.

As a Hindi translator, it is my endeavor to deliver the best. Though I do my work seriously, this doesn’t hold true for all of us in the translation world. Many times, I work on review assignments, and often come across translation fails which do not seem to make any sense. Even if they do, they are totally irrelevant to the context. They may seem funny or weird to the reviewer, but are frustrating for the viewer.  Over to some crazy reading!

‘Hospital Scrubs’ become ‘Hospital dusting cloths’

Just a few days back, I was watching a wonderful talk with Hindi subtitles. Being a translator, that’s what I do most of the times. This is how the talk progresses:
The speaker says, “Whether you wear skirts, army uniforms or hospital scrubs…”

Translated into Hindi as, “Chahe aap ek skirt pehan sakte hain, sena vardi ya asptaal jhaadan.”

Back translation is, “Whether you wear a skirt, army uniform or a hospital dusting cloth…”

The word hospital scrubs has been translated as hospital dusting cloth. The reason is simple, the translator was either a novice or a great fan of google. And most important, he/she decided to skip research. Had they researched, it would have been found that hospital scrubs are the clothes  worn by doctors, nurses etc. in hospitals in the United States.

In this scenario, the correct translation would have been, “Chahe aap ek skirt pehan sakte hain, sena ki vardi ya asptaal ke kapde.” Simple!

‘Rain check’ becomes ‘let’s check the rain’

The leading lady in this TV show was supposed to meet someone, but she fell sick. So, she called him up to cancel the appointment.

She says, “We can do a rain check.”

Translated as, “Hum barrish ka pata karen.”

Back translated as “Let’s check the rain.”

This was too literal a translation.

Correct translation would be, “Hum kisi aur din kar sakte hain.”

‘Gig’ becomes ‘cabriolet’

This is from another talk I was listening to.

Speaker, “So I got my first gig as a TV anchor.”

Translated as “Mujhe mil gya TV samachar mein apna pehla tamtam.”

Back translated as “I found my first cabriolet  in the TV news.”

Doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it? If you go on to google and look up gig, that’s what you get. According to google, Gig means Tamtam in Hindi. And tamtam (cabriolet) is a light, two-wheeled carriage with a hood, drawn by one horse.

Correct translation, “TV samachar udghoshak ke roop mein mujhe apna pehla kaam mila.”

‘Groping’ becomes ‘a blind man’s search’

The sentence is: “When she came forward with her groping case for one dollar…”

Translated as, “Jab woh aage aayi apne andhkhoj abhiyog ko lekar ek dollar ke liye.”

Back translation, “When she came forward with her blind search case for a dollar.”

Correct translation, “Jab woh ek dollar ke liye zabardasti chue jaane ke masle ko lekar aage aayi..”

In this case, our fellow translator has not even bothered to go into depth as to what the talk is about. And see, the speaker’s words have lost their impact in the translation.

‘Volcano’ becomes ‘Tide’

Teacher to his students, “I will be teaching about volcanoes today.”
Translated as “Main aaj jwar bhata ke baare mein padhaoonga.”

Back translated as, “I will be teaching about tides today.”
Well, there comes Google into the picture again, because if you search on Google: Volcano in Hindi. The first word that pops up is Jwar bhata. And it is clear that our fellow translator, who clearly is not a native Hindi speaker decided to follow Mr. Google blindly.

‘Climate’ becomes ‘Air and Water’

The original text in this case was in Hindi. It was related to a talk about climatic change.

Speaker, “Hum jalvayu ke aankde dekhen toh…”

Translated into English as, “If we see the data on water and air then…”

Back translated into Hindi as, “Agar hum jal aur vayu ke aankde dekhen toh…”

Correct translation, “If we see the data on climate change, then…”

Jalvayu is a single word which stands for Climate; it doesn’t have to be broken up into Jal and Vayu or Water and air.

‘One and only’ becomes ‘only one in the world’

MC says,”Please welcome on stage, the one and only Mr. [Anonymous]…”

Translated as, “Kripya manch par swagat karen duniya mein sirf ek Shrimaan [Anonymous] ka…”

Back translated as “Please welcome on stage only one in the world  Mr. [Anonyms]…”

Now, the phrase one and only is used before the name of a person to show that there is no one like that person. It does not need to be literally translated.

Just knowing two languages or being multilingual is not enough to make you a good translator. One needs to be ready to accept one’s mistakes, be willing to learn and have an open mind. Words are used and understood in different ways across different cultures and different languages. You might come across a new word, which you have never heard of before. Your translation would just look like a cluttered mess of words, if you just look up the meaning in google and jot it down as is. You need to do some research, refer to the context the word is being used in, keep in mind the linguistic impact and then translate.

My only advise to our wonderful community of translators is one needs to refrain from literal translation, always see the context, avoid copying from google or any other online source, and keep the cultural background in mind. Let the world know that you are a native speaker!!

To be honest, as a professional, such translation fails irritate me. At the same time, while watching movies/shows, I feel these silly mistakes can be easily avoided. And I am sure, it’s not just me but all the good translators and viewers also feel the same.

On a hopeful note, hoping to learn more and deliver the best!

Here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year!!

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