Sometimes the choice of words – or even one word can make all the difference. That’s why professional translators work hard to develop and stay current with the grammatical nuances and latest vernacular associated with their language pairs. In the book, Found in Translation, professional translators Jost Zetzche and Nataly Kelly recount a multitude of situations where translation errors have resulted in everything from humorous misunderstandings to dangerous showdowns. Here are just a few examples from their book:
Much Ado About Nothing
HSBC bank had to launch a $10 million global rebranding campaign in 2009 to repair the damage created when its tagline “Assume Nothing” was mistakenly translated as “Do Nothing” in numerous countries around the world.
When I Abandoned the United States
When President Carter traveled to Poland in 1977, the State Department hired a Russian interpreter who knew Polish, but was not proficient at interpreting professionally in that language. Because of his limited grasp of the language, the interpreter relayed Carter’s comments incorrectly, making mistakes in Polish like “when I abandoned the United States” (instead of “when I left the United States”) and “your lusts for the future” (in place of “your desires for the future”). While somewhat humorous, these mistakes made President Carter look foolish to foreign dignitaries and the gaffs were widely reported by the media in both countries.
We Will Bury You
At the pinnacle of the cold war, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev uttered a phrase in Russian during a speech that was interpreted as “we will bury you.” It was widely taken as a chilling threat to bury the United States with a nuclear attack and it greatly escalated the tension between the U.S. and Russia. However, the translation was a bit too literal. The sense of the Russian phrase was really more like “we will outlast you.” Still not very reassuring, but not quite so threatening nevertheless.
And so the moral is this: When hiring a translator for your pertinent business translation needs, make sure to choose a professional who is current with the business vernacular and grammar of the language in question. References from satisfied clients are always a helpful tool when searching for a competent translator, but what if you don’t know whom to contact for a reference? A simple option is to find a translator who is certified by the American Translators Association. All ATA certified translators have passed rigorous qualifications, demonstrated the highest proficiency in their designated language pairs and have pledged to uphold the ATA Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. To find an ATA certified translator and to learn more, visit the ATA Online Directory.