DYI short text translation does not always end well

The problems posed by short text translation

At one time or another we’ve all been exposed to a hapless example of short text translation. As you can see from the picture above, poor use of language and clumsy translation often stands in the way of the very best attentions to inform, intrigue, or merely keep us away from harm.

The problems posed by short text translation are well known by industry experts and all those of you have come across amusing translation mistakes of your own. The trouble is, with such short pieces of text, some businesses find it just too tempting to save a couple of quid by attempting some translations of their own, often with the help of Google translate. Our experience in the industry has taught us that, however easy a spot of short text translation might seem, it’s one area which is always best left to the professionals.

Common short text translation mistakes

The Rush Job

Many of the companies that turn to us for professional translation assistance are working to tight budgets and deadlines. That’s fine by us, because we can turn projects around nice and quickly to meet even the most demanding deadlines. But what happens when there’s a last minute change to a document we’ve already translated, or a few words are added to a brochure, document or website page? That’s when mistakes can occur.

Rather than sending the extra text back to the professionals, sometimes marketing managers and web developers opt to take a short cut. So, off they go to Google translate; and therein lies their mistake.

Google translate is an incredibly clever tool for producing very general translations, but when you need a piece of text to be precise, as all good short text communications should be, automated translation tools are of next to no use.

The Contextual Cock-Up

Context is essential in accurate language translation. With so many homonyms at play, creating an accurate translation is only possible when a word is considered in context. At the last count, there were an estimated 6,139 documented homonyms in the English language, so there’s plenty of room for error.

For example, the word ‘bear’ can mean:

• To hold up; support: To bear the weight of a roof
• To give birth to: To bear a child
• To produce by natural growth: A tree that bears fruit
• The big, cuddly (sometimes aggressive) animal you find in the woods

Put the word ‘bear’ into Google translate and you never know which meaning your translation will assume. Get it wrong, and you’ll be left with a short text translation that makes a laughing stock of your best laid plans.

So, the moral of this story is: Whether it’s a big chunk of text or just a handful of words, the only way to be assured of a word perfect translation is to work with mother tongue linguists who understand the nuances and context of their language.

Have you seen any short translation blunders you’d like to share? Please leave your examples in the comments section below.

Image credits: Chris Radley