Just because you are bilingual doesn’t mean you can translate or interpret.

Whilst errors in translation can be funny for the bystander for those within the midst of the problem it can be harrowing. As with all of the stories below as reported by http://www.vegasinc.com/news/2012/oct/08/how-pick-right-translator-or-interpreter-your-comp/ in an article designed to sell their services I am sure the people involved wanted to be more inclusive, but errors occur.

On reading this list I was immediately drawn to this comment

“Just because you are bilingual doesn’t mean you can translate or interpret,” said Las Vegas translator and interpreter Judy Jenner. Just because you can write doesn’t make you a reporter for The New York Times. Subject knowledge and other factors are very important.”

When we first started this, fresh out of the classroom with a goal to write books to help those who wanted to communicate with new arrivals or those with little or no English, we were not really aware and naive.  As with all teachers we believed if you bought a service in that it was to be trusted, and whilst in many cases this is true I soon found myself with translators who spoke their home language beautifully, but sometimes were unable to be unbiased, communicate an instruction to a child, but more importantly did not have the level of language in their home language needed to give simple instructions to children.  It was a good learning curve and there are now steps in place to ensure we get the best and that teachers not unlike myself can feel more confident in what they are delivering.

For each book I work closely with the translators and their hard work and committmnet to  both communication and developing language learning is celebrated with their name alongside  the authors on every book. They give me advice and ocassionally cultural references which are then fed through to our monthly magazine which goes out to all member schools throughout the UK. This means that should you have a Czech child in your school you will know that at lunchtime they have come from a school where their expectation is tablecloths and ceramic plates, quite different to some of the practices we see in schools here or indeed in other countries, so being aware makes the teachers jobs easier.

To see our selection of bilingual books http://shop.emasuk.com/

Some example of translation errors to make you smile.

Consider the case of the Canadian company translating baby formula labels into French.

“They mistranslated the instructions in such a way that the mixture would cause illness or even death in babies,” said Jiri Stejskal, spokesman for the American Translators Association. “That was caught in time luckily, but it wasn’t good for the manufacturer. It cost millions of dollars.”

Then there was the time New York City pharmacies mistranslated prescription labels into Spanish. The doses on countless bottles were wrong.

And the sign for a 100-year anniversary that instead of “100 años” (100 years) read “100 anos” (100 anuses).

A bad translation can be horrible for a business. It can endanger customers, lead to lawsuits and create a public relations nightmare.

A good translation, on other hand, can open up avenues to new markets and clientele and help a company establish strong relationships with non-English speakers.

So how do you prevent the latter and try to ensure the former?

“Just because you are bilingual doesn’t mean you can translate or interpret,” said Las Vegas translator and interpreter Judy Jenner, who owns Twin Translations with her sister. “That’s a basic requirement. Just because you can write doesn’t make you a reporter for The New York Times. Subject knowledge and other factors are very important.”


Translators and interpreters say the first step toward a successful transaction is to figure out exactly what you need and the details of a project.

Although “interpreter” and “translator” are frequently used interchangeably, the terms are distinct. Interpreters deal with live situations and the spoken word, while translators work with text.

“It’s very different skill sets,” Jenner said. “With translating, you have time. You can do research. You can look at the text and take your time determining the best translation. Interpreters have to have an excellent memory and note-taking skills. They often speak simultaneously or just behind the speaker.”

It’s also important for the person doing the hiring to impart a clear objective for the project.

“We had a good example here at my company of a misunderstanding,” said Stejskal, president and CEO of the translation firm CETRA. “We translate a lot of surveys, and we did a survey in Japan for iPods. We assumed that they were surveying young people, and in Japanese you write differently for different age categories. So, we wrote the survey as if it was addressing young folks. It turns out they were surveying senior citizens, and it was all wrong. It needed to be more formal, so we had to scrap the whole thing.”


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