On my bookshelf is a copy of ‘Lost in Translation: Misadventures in English Abroad’ by Charlie Croker, a collection of hilarious translation mistakes from around the world. This book had me giggling out loud, so be warned: in the words of the Sunday Times reviewer, it’s quite simply “Too funny for public transport”!
Some of the mangled English phrases, signs and menu items are frankly too rude to publish here, but let me share a few examples. What is the hotel guest in Istanbul to make of “Flying water in all rooms”? What, I wonder, awaits the visitor to Amalfi who is promised “Suggestive views from every window”? At least there’s sage advice for guests in Vienna: “In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter.”
Funny as these mistakes are, they do demonstrate that when you’ve got an important message to get across, it’s essential to use a skilled translator who is familiar with both source and target languages and the cultures that go along with them. An inadequate translation might be understood with some effort on the reader’s part (and the unintentionally hilarious one might raise a smile!), but it won’t create a good impression.
A good translator conveys meaning, not just words, and recreates the same effect on the reader that was intended with the original text. This takes a combination of language skills, cultural awareness, training and experience.
The take-home message? When you need to impress a potential customer, convey essential information, or communicate with finesse in another language, the most important thing you can do is bring a qualified translator on board.