Five Misconceptions Caused By Mistranslations

Many sites list hundreds of amusing, sometimes utterly nonsensical mistranslations found all over the world, probably done by machines or translators with little care for context or quality. These mistranslations appear in restaurants and menus (“Scallop singed in the cognac and its fall of leeks”, “Sausage in the father-in-law”), hotels (“The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.”, “Please leave your values at the front desk.”), road signs (“Beware of missing foot”, “To take notice of the safe, the slippery are very crafty”), on product packaging and advertisement flyers (“Amazing visual convulsion”, “Prevents the washings to distort, ties a knot.”, “Take one of our horse-driven city tours. We guarantee no miscarriages.”) 

In other cases, the consequences of translation errors are more dramatic.

In 1980, a confusion between “intoxicado” (“poisoned”) and “intoxicated” led doctors to believe that 18-year-old Willie Ramirez, admitted to a Florida hospital in a comatose state, was suffering from intentional drug overdose, while he was actually suffering from an intracerebellar haemorrhage. The inadequate treatment that he received after the misdiagnosis left him quadriplegic, and the law suit that took place later resulted in a settlement of $71 million.

Politically, the mistranslation of Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki’s response to the Potsdam Declaration of 1945 may well have been one of the reasons that pushed the United States to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima – only 10 days after Suzuki’s comment. Suzuki used the word “mokusatsu”, which can in fact be interpreted as “no comment”… or as “treating with silent contempt.”

Some mistranslations, however, have simply been accepted and made their way into the collective subconscious and everyday speech. Even after better translations were made, these myths and sayings are still deeply rooted in cultural representations. Here are 5 of them, some of which I wasn’t aware of until I did some research for this article.

 1- The Forbidden Fruit

One of the oldest examples of such mistranslations comes from the Bible itself. Religious texts, which are several centuries old and have undergone countless translations, are a source for many translation errors. The common belief that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was an apple originates from an early mistranslation of the text which used the word “mălum”, meaning both “apple” and “evil.” The original text only mentioned “fruit” and a “tree”, but there are no traces of apples. Despite that, common depictions of this scene often show an apple tree, and the fruit was also adopted as the common name given to the laryngeal prominence: the Adam’s apple.

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2- The Tongue Map

There is a common misconception that specific areas of the tongue are designed to recognise specific tastes: sweet on the tip of the tongue, sour and salt on the sides and bitter in the back. In fact, all taste buds can recognise all tastes, with variations in sensitivity to some flavours. The myth of the tongue map originates from a translation by Edwin Boring of a German paper, Zur Psychophysik des Geschmackssinnes, written in 1901 by David Hänig. The paper originally shows different detection levels across the tongue, but was misinterpreted as differences in sensitivity to basic tastes.

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3- Life on Mars

An error in the translation of an 1877 text by Giovanni Schiaparelli, an Italian astronomer, led to fanciful hypotheses about the “long-vanished Martian civilisation.” In 1895, astronomer Percival Lowell, having read Schiaparelli’s works, even went as far as speculating that Martians were living in a civilised, utopian society, capable of building complex systems of irrigation “canals.” The problem is the Schiaparelli never wrote about these canals: he wrote about canali, “channels”, which simply refer to the network of linear structures that he observed on the soil of the red planet. Life on Mars? Maybe not yet.

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4- An Idea Whose Time Has Come

What about the saying “One cannot resist an idea whose time has come” or its paraphrase, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”? Mistranslation, simplification, misquote? In any case, the original quote from Victor Hugo, “On résiste à l’invasion des armées, on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées”, could be more accurately translated as “One can resist the invasion of armies, but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.” Through translation, the quote acquired a new meaning, but because it was truncated in the English version, the original quote saw its meaning modified…

Victor_Hugo_by_Étienne_Carjat_1876

5- The Short Man Syndrome

Numbers can also be mistranslated, and it is an error in the translation of measurement units that created the image of Napoleon as a short man. He was actually 5’2” in French feet, that is, around 170 cm, or 5’7”. This is in fact slightly above average height for his time. The myth still persists and gave birth to what is known as the “Napoleon syndrome” or “Short Man syndrome”, a phrase used to describe a type of inferiority complex, generally in men of short stature. These men are generally characterised by an overly aggressive social behaviour, as if they were compensating for their lack of height. Research has shown that taller men actually tend to react more aggressively to provocation.

Napoleon4

There would probably many more examples of translation errors that we are not aware of. Can they be corrected? Once they have become a part of culture itself, it seems very difficult to change them into brand new images, phrases and representations. Even after learning about these errors, I find it difficult to imagine Adam and Eve eating anything else but an apple, or to imagine Napoleon as anything else but a short, aggressive man with a bicorne hat.

In these mistranslations, is the translator a maker of culture, or a traitor to the original culture (and possibly to the target one as well, by introducing “false beliefs” into it)? It seems, in any case, that the role of the translator is often ambiguous, halfway between two cultures, tormented by the dilemma caused by the untranslatable, risking to lose elements from the source or to confuse readers belonging the target culture… and the misconceptions that exist about translation itself are certainly not helping.

 References and further reading:

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2682/was-the-forbidden-fruit-in-the-garden-of-eden-an-apple

http://tasteofchemistry.org/summer/r/docs/tastescientificamer.pdf (Especially page 87)

http://www.livescience.com/7113-tongue-map-tasteless-myth-debunked.html

http://www.livescience.com/22102-5-mars-myths-and-misconceptions.html

http://europeanhistory.about.com/od/bonapartenapoleon/a/napoleonheight.htm

Wikipedia also has an interesting list of common misconceptions, whether they be related to translation or not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_misconceptions

The Tricky Art of Transcreation

What is Transcreation?

Translation Scholar Elsa Figueroa defines transcreation as a process in which ‘’the translator is ‘given permission’ by the formulator of the request to create a new text that could be considered equivalent to the source text inasmuch as it produces the same or a similar effect on the target locale’s audience as it would on the source text’s target audience.’’ As she pointed out in ‘Transfixed: Challenges of Text-Focused Translation in a Visual Age’ (an upcoming article), any translation of ‘’Just Do It!’’ has to encourage the consumer into some form of athletic activity. However, to do this they must take into account the cultural values of the people they are selling to. This slogan works in America because of their ‘can do’ attitude and their American spirit. Not all cultures feel the same, she goes on to say: ‘’the translator would rather need to find an appropriate combination of words that together with the accompanying visuals would motivate the viewer in the same way as the source language audience is [motivated] by the piece of advertising.’’

The Role of Marketing

We live in a consumerist world; a world where people know what they want and how to get it. In this competitive society where multiple companies battle it out to sell their products and their brands they need something which will set them apart from the rest. This is where marketing comes in. One of the most important tools in the marketing toolbox is the tagline or the slogan (the former a brief phrase which sums up the company, the latter a phrase used with marketing campaigns by the company that often changes). It helps sell products by making people take notice, it’s catchy, memorable and inspiring. ‘’Just Do It!’; ‘’Every Little Helps’’; ‘’I’m Lovin’ It’’; ‘’Because You’re Worth It’’. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword. But how do you make your translated tagline mighty?

For a translated tagline to reach its potential a high level of cooperation between the translation team andthe client is required. This is where the experienced project management of a translation company comes into play. Here at TIL, we work closely with in-country translators to ensure a tagline is localised. It may only be a few words long but it is often built out of wordplay or specific cultural elements alien to a target culture and language – these elements require consideration and debate. This is where creativity on the translator’s part is essential, but not to the extent that the message is totally changed; the new tagline has to work in the same want-remember-buy trifecta as the original.

The Cost of Badly Translated Slogans

Many companies spend millions creating innovative and eye-catching campaigns in their primary markets but then fritter away their well-spent money when they don’t consider localisation techniques for an international launch. A badly translated slogan or tagline can cost a company its pride and reputation. A tagline should create confidence in a brand, encourage people to buy and keep buying, not ridicule the company, turning it into a joke.

5 of the worst examples to date:

  1. English>Chinese: ‘’Come Alive: You’re in the Pepsi Generation’’ became ‘’Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead’’.
  2. English>Spanish: ‘’Got Milk?’’ translated in Mexico was ‘’Are you lactating?’’.
  3. English>Spanish: ‘’Suffer from diahorrea with Coors’’ was the translation of ‘’Turn it loose’’.
  4. English>Spanish: ‘’Fly in Leather’’ became ‘’Fly Naked’’ for American Airlines.
  5. English>Spanish: Frank Purdue’s ’’It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken’’ was turned into ‘’It takes a sexually stimulated man to make an affectionate chicken’’.

 

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                                              “Fly Naked”

  

5 of the best:

  1. English>Spanish: ‘’Me encanta’’, McDonald’s ‘’I’m Lovin’ It’’.
  2. English>Spanish: ‘’Vívela’’, Coca-Cola’s ‘’Enjoy’’ which means ‘’Live it’’.
  3. English>Spanish: ‘’Desde el 1886 repartiendo felicidad’’, Coca-Cola’s ‘’Live it Light’’ which means ‘’Spreading Happiness Since 1886’’, the word for ‘light’ in Spanish not having any double meaning.
  4. English>Spanish: ‘’En Orange, estamos para ayudarte’’, Orange’s ‘’The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Orange’’ which means ‘’At Orange, we’re here to help’’. Not so catchy but a literal translation wouldn’t work as the company is not called ‘naranja’, the Spanish word for orange.
  5. English>French: ‘’Chaque jour c’est du Bonheur à tartiner’’, Nutella’s ‘’Breakfast Never Tasted This Good’’ which means ‘every day it’s a joy to spread’.

Coke                                “Spreading Happiness …since 1886”

Address your Target Culture

In this age of globalisation we must encourage translators to develop new skills and to have a thorough knowledge of both source and target cultures. This is why working with native target language speakers is essential; this is the only way to ensure that a tagline or a slogan has the same effect on its target audience as it had on its source audience. In order to meet the challenges brought by our consumerist globalised world we must educate both translator and client about the importance of working together to produce a slogan that speaks to the culture it’s selling to. It’s about a symbiosis between client and agency, agency and translator; and ultimately source text and target text.

For more information:

Figueroa, Elsa (forthcoming 2014), ‘Transfixed: Challenges of Text-Focused Translation in a Visual Age’ in Norwich Papers, 21.

 

 

 

 

Does the EU need an official language?

BeFunky_CrossProcess_2.jpgThe debate has been raging ever since German President Joachim Goack’s speech in February in which he suggested making English the official language of the EU. (Kate Connolly, The Guardian)

It’s important to remember that at this stage, whether English should be the official language of the EU (or whether the EU should have a single official language at all for that matter), is merely a suggestion and that there are no plans or strategies to implement such a thing at this time. With Europe’s economy still suffering from the recent recession, austerity measures and cutbacks have been preached on all sides. With extreme penny-pinching taking place all over Europe, the concept of one official language to cut back EU spending may be well received. This statement also comes at a time when Britain is trying to withdraw from the EU, and what better way to stay in its good books than by adopting the language?

Yet the heart of the debate isn’t so much that English should be the EU’s official language, but whether the EU should have an official language at all.

While the EU uses three ‘procedural’ languages within its walls; French, German and of course, English, the EU actually has twenty-three official languages. While the European Commission does not require that all documents be translated into every language (depending on the needs of the EU members), the European Parliament follows a different approach.

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The European Parliament ensures that important legislation and documents such as parliamentary documents are translated into all 23 official languages. The European Parliament makes a point to ensure the highest possible degree of multilingualism to make the European institutions more transparent and accessible. However, the EU produces an estimated 1.76 million pages of translation work a year at a cost of 300 million EUR as a result (Phillip Olterman, the Guardian) and so it’s easy to see how a single official language might be considered as a good idea.

What would having English as an official language mean for the EU?

Political aspect

 Ideally, an official language would help in creating a more united Europe, with business and trade bringing Europe together and creating a true Union without barriers.

× Unfortunately this is the more unlikely scenario and these effects would certainly not be seen in the short-term. While some EU members may be in support of such a change, there would also be many against it. Why should one language be selected over another? The pro-democratic EU will stand very little chance in herding its members towards any form of agreement on the matter. Any attempt to force an official language will surely be met with extreme protest, and whatever language is chosen (whether it be English or another language entirely) might even come to be resented as a result.

Cultural aspect

 In terms of selecting an official language, English may indeed be a reasonable choice considering that it has already become the ‘lingua franca’ (a common means of communication for speakers of different native languages) of Europe. English is already the most widely spoken foreign language (38%) in Europe and is already taught in many schools. With such a strong foundation already in place, there would be less difficulty making the change to one single official EU language.

× However, it is important to remember that the EU was founded upon the basis of trade and as single economic market. While relations may have improved between fellow EU members as a result of the Union, this does not mean that Europe is ready to unite under other terms. Language is a key reflection of a culture, and in all likelihood very few EU members would be likely to budge an inch if they felt that their culture and heritage would not be taken into consideration at the highest level. In fact, the majority of Europeans (81%) agree that all languages spoken within the EU should be treated equally. 

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Monetary aspect

√ When it comes down to it, there are several very practical advantages to having one official language for the EU. Presuming that an agreement was made and the official language was selected and implemented smoothly, not only would it save money for the budget, but the EU would be able to operate effectively without the need for translators or interpreters.

× Ideally this would be the case, but if English were to be selected as an official language, then English native speakers would be at an obvious advantage, both in business and for jobs within the EU. The EU would change from all official languages being represented to all being equally unrepresented apart from one.

Besides, if the EU wished to maintain its cultural diversity then guess where all that money saved on translations would probably go? In all likelihood it would likely be spent on teaching English to its own employees and representatives! Things may change but one way or another the EU will always be forced to pay for language services, whether it be translating, interpreting or teaching.

Conclusion

“All EU citizens must be able to refer to legislation directly concerning them in the language of their country. Furthermore, since every European citizen has the right to stand for election to the European Parliament, it is unreasonable to require Members to have a perfect command of one of the common languages. The right of each Member to read parliamentary documents, to follow debates and to speak in his/her own language is expressly recognised in Parliament’s Rules of Procedure. In addition, in its role as legislator the European Parliament is obliged to guarantee that the linguistic quality of all the laws which it adopts is beyond reproach in all official languages.” (European Parliament)

The system as it stands is fair and allows easy access of information to each of the EU members without discrimination.  While one language might make things easier from a business and economic perspective, it should be noted that the EU is only a monetary union and no member state should be placed at a disadvantage because its language is not the most popular. All EU members are involved and have an equal stake in its success, so as far we’re concerned, the languages used in the EU should reflect that.

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The Complex Work of a Professional Translator

Many professional translators attest to the fact that their work is misunderstood and often underestimated.

Today’s post serves to outline the skill-set of a professional translator; the complex approach required to produce quality translations, and to provide an insight into what it is our talented translators at TIL do on a daily basis.

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‘I Can Speak a Foreign Language – Can I be a Translator?’

Many people assume that if someone is bilingual or multilingual this means they can simply apply their linguistic knowledge and translate content quite easily. This is not the case – knowledge of the source and target languages forms the base – a professional translator requires an array of different skills:

Communication Skills

Excellent communication skills are required in order to interpret a source language,  and convey its intended meaning in the target language. Clear, concise and fluid writing skills are essential and a quality translation service offers a communicative and collaborative service to their clients.

Cultural Understanding

As each language is so inextricably linked to the culture/country in which it is used it means that the translator needs to have knowledge of that country and culture. Cultural nuance is what makes the difference between a machine translated text and the professional work done by a skilled translator. The majority of translators translate into their native/dominant language, and in doing so produce accurate text that is both linguistically and culturally sound.

Industry Knowledge

Specialised knowledge relevant to the subject matter is essential – can you imagine an IT expert having to outline the details of complex physics or a law graduate attempting to explain the latest fashion trends?

IT Skills

Translators also need to be savvy in terms of the technology they use for translation memory to ensure consistency and quality.

Time Management

As most projects are time dependent, translators  need to have excellent time management skills to provide quality translations within a given timeframe.

 Attention to Detail Photo 10-03-13 23 52 28

Meticulous attention to detail is required at all times, and on many levels; grammar, syntax and linguistic structure, cultural relevancy (localisation), file format, background knowledge of a given industry.

Accuracy

Accuracy cannot be underestimated – a mistake in the content of marketing/business material can result in a loss of potential revenue and more seriously, a mistake on the packaging of medicine can lead to injury or worse.

Patience

Accuracy and attention to detail call for a high level of patience.

Business Skills

Many translators work freelance or run their own business which means that good business skills are also required to maintain a professional service.

Language, Culture & Communication

Translators use their love of language, culture and communication to aid others in communicating their message – they listen carefully and engage with the content in order to represent cultural nuance, preference, personality – they choose their words carefully to respect the author’s meaning.

A comprehensive approach

A good translation service provides translation, proofreading and comprehensive multi-lingual project management, as we do here at TIL.

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The Average Daily Output of a Translator

Depending on the quality and complexity of the text, a professional and experienced translator can process approximately 3000 words per day (on average). On this scale quality output will be produced by happy translators.

Perhaps those who do not understand the complexities of language and translation may assume that the work can be done quickly – as long as it takes to read the text in the source language and translate the words? Translation is not the substitution of words.

If a translation job is rushed, how can a professional translator put into action all the skills mentioned above? A rushed translation will lack the required accuracy and attention it deserves. A good translation is only as good as the original text and thorough process involved.

Clients who provide extremely poor source content – at times even illegible, and ask that it be completed in a few hours cannot expect a quality result.

I recently discussed this issue with an experienced translator based in South Africa.

She told me “people looking for translations should understand that translating is a job, not just a hobby, and translators take pride in doing the work correctly and accurately – putting their stamp and signature on the finished work”

Have your say Do you think the complex work of a professional translator is often undervalued?

Language – Barrier or Trigger for Business & E-Commerce?

Globalise

TIL has recently being working with a lot of clients who have been focusing on international expansion and growth due to stagnant economies closer to home.

Q. How important is it for your business to communicate your message in foreign tongues?

Q. Where is your market currently? Google’s Market Finder could help…

The EU might be a good place to start to unwrap the interaction between language and business, providers and consumers.

The European Commission released a comprehensive report on ‘Europeans and their Languages’ in 2012. Labelled the ‘Special Eurobarometer 386’ a survey was carried out by TNS Opinion & Social network in the 27 Member States of the European Union. 26,751 respondents from different social and demographic groups were interviewed in their mother tongue.

Some of the findings of this report are of particular to both the translation industry and from a business/e-commerce & marketing outlook.

  • In  accordance with the EU population, the  most widely spoken mother  tongue is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (13% each), French (12%), then Spanish and Polish (8% each)
  • Countries where respondents are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language are  Hungary (65%),  Italy (62%), the  UK and  Portugal (61% in each), and Ireland (60%)
  • 54% of Europeans are able to hold a conversation in at least one other language. This means that almost half of the European population speaks only one language.
  • The  five most  widely spoken  foreign languages remain  English (38%), French (12%), German (11%), Spanish (7%) and Russian (5%)
  • The most notable changes since 2005 are an  increase in the proportion of Europeans who regularly use  foreign languages on the internet (+10 percentage points) and  when watching films/television  or listening to the radio (+8 points).
  • 39% of Europeans know a foreign language well enough to communicate online, however just 26% feel they can understand English well enough to communicate online.
  • English is the most widely understood, with a quarter (25%) of Europeans able to follow radio or television news in the language.
  • The majority of Europeans  (81%) agree that all languages spoken within the EU should be treated equally.
  • Europeans recognise that translation has an important role to play in a wide range of areas across society, most notably in education and learning (76%) and in health and  safety (71%).
  • Europeans perceive translation as important while looking for a job (68%), getting news about events in the rest of the world (67%), participating in or getting information about EU activities (60%), accessing public services (59%) or enjoying leisure activities such as TV, films and reading (57%).

These figures provide some positive aspects when it comes to multilingualism in Europe – even though the figures suggest multilingualism itself is not on the rise. However, people want to communicate with one another and learning/understanding a language other than your own is held in high regard.

Quip (19)

Q. What about Europeans as consumers?

Q. Does a consumer’s buying behaviour differ when they have to decipher product/service information in a foreign tongue?

Nataly Kelly, for the Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog discusses an interesting study which was carried out by the European Commission in 2011. The study was based on a Gallup survey of language preferences [PDF] among internet users in 23 E.U. countries:

  • 9/10 Internet users said that, when given a choice of languages, they always visited a website in their own language.
  • Nearly one in five Europeans (19%) said they never browse in a language other than their own.
  • 42% said they never purchase products and services in other languages.

Therefore although more Europeans are willing to surf the web in a foreign language compared with 2005 – and 26% of whom will do so in English  – this does not mean they will follow through with a purchase. Multilingual Europeans still prefer to BUY in their native languages.

What’s the reason for this? Perhaps it’s easier and the content is localised and is therefore more relevant to the buyer; perhaps it saves time and simply feels more natural.

According to HBR there is an undeniably strong link between in-language content and a consumer’s likelihood of making a purchase’

The Common Sense Advisory surveyed 2,430 web consumers in eight countries to learn about how language affected their purchasing behaviours.

  • 72.1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language.
  • 72.4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language.
  • 56.2% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.

This last one is interesting – although consumers are visiting sites in English, they are less likely to purchase on these sites. This means that half of your potential customers are willing to pay more if you provide them with the relevant information in their own language.

If you own a business and you are currently reviewing your language strategy, it may seem like quite a feat to represent all 23 officially recognised EU languages, not to mention the regional ones – but there are solutions. Language clusters can work depending on what region you are targeting and those countries that have higher rates of multilingualism could also cut your costs.

Let us know what your view is?

Do you surf the web in languages other than your own? And if you do – do you purchase from these sites?

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Machine Translation for Professional Linguists?

Google Translate

It is evident in today’s global economy that our understanding of a ‘language barrier’ is somewhat changing  due to the availability of language technology. A ‘language barrier’ is defined in the Collins English dictionary as the ‘absence of communication between people who speak different languages‘. Language technology can bridge this gap – but from a professional standpoint isn’t accuracy key when conducting business on the world stage?

As professional linguists, we need to be aware of the pitfalls this growing approach to communication presents. We are in the business of language and cultural diversity, and naturally applaud any advances in global communication, however, there are a few things to keep in mind when using this readily available technology.                                                         

What is Machine Translation?

Machine translation (MT) is automated translation. It is the process by which computer software is used to translate a text from one language to another” (KantanMT)

MT has developed rapidly in recent years and differs greatly from its origins in 1950s. One of the earliest and best known experiments in Georgetown in 1954 involved the automated translation of 60+ Russian sentences into English. It was “conceived and performed primarily in order to attract governmental and public interest and funding by showing the possibilities of machine translation, it was by no means a fully-featured system: It had only six grammar rules and 250 items in its vocabulary”. ( History of Information )

In 1990s IBM produced a model that moved away from a rule-based system focusing on specific grammatical rules and adopted a statistical approach whereby the system searches for parallel words/phrases ranked by probability of occurrence.

It was in 2004, when Sergey Brin, a Google founder, had the vision to expand on this model and use the vast amount of text and internet resources available that Google came into play. Google Translate is now used by 200 million people per month.

Google states: ‘ Of course, for nuanced or mission-critical translations, nothing beats a human translator—and we believe that as machine translation encourages people to speak their own languages more and carry on more global conversations, translation experts will be more crucial than ever’(Google Blog)

Most recently Google has incorporated image analysis and speech recognition technology to the toolkit expanding the scope of MT even further…

On the basis of the evolution of machine translation one might assume that the larger and better quality the database, the better the results. Perhaps not.

An Informative article entitled Can Google Break the Computer Language Barrier written by Tim Adam’s for  The Guardian in 2010 cites a previous Google employee Andreas Zollmann who suggested that more data does not necessarily make for a more efficient system.“Each doubling of the amount of translated data input led to about a 0.5% improvement in the quality of the output,” he suggests, but the doublings are not infinite. “We are now at this limit where there isn’t that much more data in the world that we can use,” he admits. “So now it is much more important again to add on different approaches and rules-based models.”

Zollmann’s view serves to confirm the continuing need for a professional approach to language and communication.

Translation is not the process of replacing words.

All linguists I’m sure will agree –  language consists of much more than the words it is built upon. A language is interlinked with a culture in such a way that mechanics cannot decipher. The cultural fluidity of a language is what defines it’s tone and nuance and ultimately it’s communicative power.

A linguist can feel this cultural nuance, feel what it is to speak both the source and target language, they have a human understanding of nuance and structure, something that mechanics cannot provide. Language is a living and evolving entity and to reduce it to words only, is to reduce its meaning. Our job as linguists is to respect and enhance it’s meaning and complexity.

Quality translations need to be completed by a professional – not only a professional linguist but one that is well versed and experienced in his/her chosen field. As translation is not just a process of replacing words, MT cannot take into account the relevant background knowledge and  interpretation required to clearly and accurately communicate the content in question.

In a recent poll on the TIL Blog, we asked:

Do you use Google Translate in your work? As of today, February 6th the results read:

  • 61%  No
  • 22%  Only for personal use
  • 11%  Yes
  • 6%    Maybe

It can’t be denied that MT in a general sense can aid in the translation process and act as a tool for productivity but it cannot replace the required human judgement and intelligence involved in relaying content clearly from one language to another. This is especially true for professional content such as marketing material where your global target market differs vastly from your home market, pharmaceutical translation where a misinterpretation could be fatal and web content where your business message is reaching the peoples of the world.

It is clear from our poll that Google translate has its place – these and the stats from Google speak for themselves when it comes to MT usage. Granted, it is a useful tool providing a fast and easy solution to bulk text and if you are looking for a general sense of a document or need to quickly interpret the meaning of a colleague’s email then it may well serve your purpose. Multilizer Translation Blog’s article on the usefulness of machine translation provides a clear road map for when MT is a viable option or not.

Our Policy at TIL

The team here at TIL agrees that for professional translation services Google Translate is a no go area. Translation Memory tools and project-specific glossaries on the other hand, are excellent resources to ensure consistency across multiple projects and multiple groups of translators.

Remember, in using Google Translate you agree to Google’s conditions which include… “a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through, the services.

These terms come in direct conflict with our priorities here at TIL; the privacy of our clients is more important.

In our view it is a grave mistake to take on a translation with the assumption that a word-for-word translation is sufficient, this may convey the message in a fragmented sense but it certainly does not convey a culturally considered meaning which is essential for the global marketplace today.

What are your thoughts on Google Translate and MT in the professional arena?

Please comment below.

Grazie 🙂

Calling all Translators! Join in our Survey!

Tips for New Translators to TIL

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We’re always more than happy to receive CVs from translators who want to work with us!

However, as we receive hundreds of CVs every month, it is very difficult for us, or any agency to filter the best from the rest!

There are a few things you can do to help us facilitate the decision-making process and to make your CV stand out!

  • Don’t call an agency out of the blue! If there is an email address provided, send your CV to that address: when you call you might not speak with the person in charge and it is better to have some written data which can be saved easily in a database! Many agencies have a vendor manager whose task it is to find translators.
  • When sending your CV make sure you write a few lines about yourself in the email. This is the first information an agency gets about you, so it should definitely contain the following items:

YOUR NATIVE TONGUE

(You will only translate from other languages into your native tongue when working with TiL)

YOUR OTHER LANGUAGES

YOUR RATES

YOUR EXPERIENCE

(i.e. how many years and what expertise you have – legal, scientific, medical etc)

  • Don’t forget to attach your CV! Please include as the title of your CV your full name and language combinations
  • Our preferred method of contact with our translators in Skype – it is particularly useful when a fast turnaround is often required of our projects! Please provide a Skype name in your application email as well.

Here at TiL, we pride ourselves on quality and consistency – do you have the skills it takes to join our team today? If so, please don’t hesitate to send your CV!

Obrigado!