Archive for April, 2011

Stir-fried Wikipedia

The second part of our new article series: Translation mistakes.

Adam Wooten who is vice president at a well-known translation and localization company highlights a number of translation mistakes stemming from machine translation. The translation mistakes are generally funny… With the developments in machine translation technology, more and more people resort to Google Translate (or to similar softwares) for everyday texts and phrases. However, machine translation “always” requires double-check for the following reasons:  

“Google Translate and other free online translation tools can be great for instant, informal translation. When expectations are properly set, particularly for low-value text, unedited machine translation can be quite useful. However, when a user overestimates machine translation capabilities, the results can be confusing at best.

When one online machine translation tool apparently mistranslated a common Chinese word as “Wikipedia,” Chinese menus began popping up everywhere with English translations for menu items like “stir-fried Wikipedia” and “barbecued Congo eel with Wikipedia and fermented bean curd.” Though odd, the error is relatively harmless. However, when the text has important implications in law, finance or marketing, the results can be terribly costly.”

For the original article, click here.

Translate Server Error

We begin with a new article series: Translation mistakes

The translation mistakes are generally funny… With the developments in machine translation technology, more and more people resort to Google Translate (or to similar softwares) for everyday texts and phrases. However, machine translation “always” requires double-check for the following reasons:  

“It’s pretty easy to imagine the chain of events to led to this revealing error. The sign is describing a restaurant (the Chinese text, 餐厅, means “dining hall”). In the process of making the sign, the producers tried to translate Chinese text into English with a machine translation system. The translation software did not work and produced the error message, “Translation Server Error.” Unfortunately, because the software’s user didn’t know English, they thought that the error message was the translation and the error text went onto the sign.”

For the original article, click here.

The Invisible Industry

Two months ago, I read an article about our invisible industry of translation. Kate Rogers gave very good examples with real numbers from an article by Kevin Handzel (ATA). I want to share the points that I find interesting:

– Kevin Hendzel, spokesperson for the American Translators Association, said the industry has more than 13.5 million translators and interpreters and has been growing at a rate of 13% annually over the past several years – despite the rough economic backdrop.

– The industry serves in 180 different languages, Hendzel said. The federal government spends more than $1 billion annually on translator services and state and local governments collectively spend $900 million.

– “The industry is much larger than people know,” Hendzel said. “It one of those great invisible industries, and a great enabler of international commerce.”

– “The problem with doing different languages and subjects is there isn’t enough room in your brain,” he said. “They need to have a huge base of knowledge to be successful. It’s harder for kids coming out of school, because they know a lot about a language, but not a lot about the world.”

– The most in-demand translators are those speaking Arabic languages, when it comes to open government positions, and French, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Chinese are more in-demand on the technology side of things. Many translators work freelance, earning between $25,000 and $175,000 a year, Hendzel said. United Nations translators are on the higher end of the pay scale, earning between $150,000 and $200,000 a year.

– “This is the only industry that grew through the recession, because globalization continues to accelerate and demand continues to grow.”

For the full article, click here.

Panic on the Plane!

Adam Wooten who is vice president at a well-known translation and localization company puts some important points about airplane manual translation into words. Most of people are still afraid of planes. For many of us, it is hard to understand how tons of iron can fly for hours. We either get some alcohol to feel more comfortable or read the same manuels and magazines over and over. We stare at the cabin attendants to understand if there is something wrong or everything is ok. Imagine that you read mistranslated manuels or hear mistranslated announcements. How would you feel? 

The mistranslated airplane manual could have been as dangerously garbled for pilots and mechanics as the emergency exit instructions translated from Spanish to English that read, “Handcuff until the it collide and without loosing it pull the hatch.” How comfortable would you feel following those instructions after a crash landing?

Serious consequences can result from mistranslations in other industries too, such as the automotive, medical and pharmaceutical fields. Such potentially deadly missteps make the false alarm aboard the Aer Lingus flight seem quite trivial. Fortunately, many aircraft mistranslations are not nearly so frightening.

Some, like the “airline pulp” label, are actually quite humorous and nonsensical. A Russian airline once advertised“wide boiled aircraft for your comfort.” Air China has distributed moist towelettes with the English label, “wet turban needless wash.”

Other in-flight mistranslations are simple typos, like the Japanese customs forms that required passengers to declare a “fight” number. Air Koryo, the state-owned North Korean carrier, has labeled airsickness bags, “For your refuses.” Japan Airlines changed a message from reassuring to worrying simply by overusing quotation marks in the invitation to, “Please enjoy our ‘safe’ and ‘comfortable’ flight.”

Some of these mistranslations include correct spelling and grammar, but convey subtle implications only native speakers will notice. Instructions on a Korean flight read, “Upon arrival at Kimpo and Kimahie Airport, please wear your clothes,” perhaps to warn former Braniff passengers who had been told otherwise – “fly naked” – via a rather infamous Spanish radio mistranslation.

In 2009, French-speaking passengers aboard an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Paris panicked when a faulty translation warned them about an impending crash landing. According to the Daily Mail, about 20 minutes into the flight, an English announcement told passengers the plane was heading into turbulence, a rather routine occurrence. Unfortunately, the pre-recorded French version told passengers the plane was going to crash.

Whether a translation influences marketing or life-and-death user experiences, companies should ensure qualified, professional, native-speaking translators are used. A blundered marketing translation can kill revenue, but other mistranslations might just kill.

For the original article, clik here.

Five tips for dealing with criticism or differences of opinion in translation

Thanks to Twitter, we can easily share and read good articles about our industry. Last week, I followed a link by Lingo Woman and discovered a very good article about how we can deal with different opinions on translation. As we all know, translation is not simply looking into dictionary and finding equivalents. It is the job of creating a new text in the target language. It is more complicated than most of the people think. As a result of this complexity, you can get different comments. Those people who may think differently may be your close friends, teachers or even your customers. Here is how you can manage these criticisms:  

Negative feedback or criticism can be tough to deal with. Translation is, by nature, subjective and it is inevitable that most translators will be faced with criticism or queries over translation or word choices from time to time throughout their careers. So what should we do when confronted with such criticism? Here are five simple tips to help you deal with this type of situation in a positiveprofessional andeffective manner:

1. Delay your response

Our first instinct when faced with criticism is to be defensive. It is important to take a deep breath, listen carefully to what is being said and take time to formulate your response. Spend some time assessing and trying to understand the criticism in order to decide whether or not it is justified.

2. Keep things professional

It is important not to retaliate, but instead to respond in a calm and professional manner. If the criticism is justified, own up to your mistake and discuss with your client the ways in which you plan to avoid a similar situation in the future. Likewise, if you feel the criticism is not justified, explain why and do not be afraid to communicate the reasoning behind the choices you have made.

3. Don’t take it personally

Try to keep things in perspective. Of course it hurts to be on the receiving end of criticism, but in the translation world, differences of opinion come with the territory. Try not to see it as a personal attack but rather as an opportunity to discuss the matter openly with the client, to offer explanations and to put forward possible solutions.

4. Turn it into a positive

If criticism is constructive it can serve as a valuable tool for self improvement. Use it as an opportunity to think about changes you can make to become more effective. Learn from your mistakes and make the necessary changes. If, for example, a client disagrees with your translation choice for a particular term, why not develop a client-specific glossary that includes the client’s preferred terms? Explain your course of action to the client, and take advantage of the situation to show them how much you value their custom and that you take their opinion seriously.

5. Believe in yourself

It is important to believe in the translation choices you make and tohave confidence in your ability as a translator. Remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, whether justified or not. Be prepared to justify your translation choices when necessary. Similarly, if criticism is unfounded and has no constructive value, learn to brush it aside without losing your confidence.

Thank you Lingo Woman!

Word Lens for Apple iPhone/iPod Touch demo



This application may seem scary at first sight; however, I don’t think that any machine translation can replace the human touch. I don’t think any machine can understand the cultural context of a text. This application may be useful to get an insight about a text but it can not be used as a professional translator. Do you also share my ideas?


Ten Translated Novels You Should Know

The cover of “The Literary Conference” by César Aira


Here are the finalists of Best Translated Book Award. Tree Percent Weblog sponsors this event. They were translated from many different languages. If you are interested in literary translation, check out those books:


1. “The Literary Conference,” by César Aira (translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver)

Blending comedy with science fiction, “The Literary Conference” tells the story of César, a mad scientist with a plan to take over the world. But first, he must clone Mexican author Carlos Fuentes.



2. “The Golden Age,” by Michal Ajvaz (translated from the Czech by Andrew Oakland)

Somewhere in the Atlantic lies a tiny island whose inhabitants spend their time writing, rewriting, and amending an enormous collective novel. “The Golden Age” tells the story of the voyager who discovers the islanders and their project.


3. “A Life on Paper: Stories,” by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud (translated from the French by Edward Gauvin)

Châteaureynaud has sometimes been called the Kurt Vonnegut of France. However, this collection of 22 of Châteaureynaud’s stories — which are often other-worldly and not infrequently unsettling — may speak to some readers more directly of Kafka.


4. “The Jokers,” by Albert Cossery (translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis)

Egyptian-born French author Cossery sets this comic novel about an incompetent government meeting an equally incompetent rebel force in a nameless Middle Eastern city.


5. “Visitation,” by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky)

From the Weimar Republic to present-day Germany, “Visitation” tells the story of a house on a lake outside Berlin and the 12 people who live in it, even as they move through a rapidly changing century of German history. “Erpenbeck will get under your skin,” promises a Washington Post critic.


6. “Hocus Bogus,” by Romain Gary writing as Émile Ajar, (translated by David Bellos)

Okay, the pedigree on this one is a little complicated, but here goes. In the 1970s, French novelist Romain Gary tired of his celebrity and began writing books as Émile Ajar. When the second Ajar book won the Prix Goncourt, Gary was outed and in response wrote “Pseudo” — a fake confessional in which “Paul Pawlovitch” confesses to being Émile Ajar. “Hocus Bogus” is the first English translation of “Pseudo.”


7. The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson (translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal)

In a remote village in rural Finland, local pariah Katri Kling finds her way into the life of Anna Aemelin, an aging children’s book author. Katri’s only interest in life is the welfare of her younger brother Mats, while Anna’s world has been shrinking in around herself. The coming together of these two odd personalities creates an eerie psychological drama.


8. “On Elegance While Sleeping,” by Emilio Lascano Tegui (translated from the Spanish by Idra Novey)

This is the first English translation of this provocative novel by Argentinian writer Emilio Lascano Tegui (who died in 1966.) “On Elegance While Sleeping” is a novel written as the diary of a French soldier, a man who is falling to pieces even as he longs for a more elegant world.


9. “Agaat,” by Marlene Van Niekerk (translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns)

Two women — an elderly white woman and her black maid — are living on a farm in South Africa even as their country is convulsing around them. The complexities of the relationships on the farm make for stirring political commentary as well as disturbing personal drama.


10. “Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer,” by Ernst Weiss (translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg)

“Georg Letham” is the fictitious first-person account of a murderous scientist exiled to a remote island for his crime. Weiss, born in Austria in 1882, committed suicide in 1940 when German troops entered Paris.


Article published by Monitor staff, By Christian Science Monitor.

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