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How Little Translation Mistakes can Turn into Big Headaches

Last Updated On: January 13, 2022 by The Migration Translators

Translation Mistakes
How Little Translation Mistakes can Turn into Big Headaches
Last updated:January 27th, 2015 by The Migration Translators

The value of a professional translation service is spelled out every time there is a little mistake in the translation that can become a potential disaster, or at least an embarrassment. Very often, the problem is more likely to happen when one person is interpreting for someone else rather than translating. This is because someone working for a Professional Translation Service has more time to double check that they are providing an accurate translation of the text they are dealing with. The interpreter, on the other hand, often has to make sense of what someone is saying on the spur of the moment. This can lead to tragic consequences in some situations.

In Florida, for instance, many people – perhaps a majority – speak Spanish better than English. One man was admitted to a hospital and his family could only tell the English speaking doctors that the man was “intoxicado”. A doctor at the hospital who understood a little Spanish translated this as meaning that the patient had had an overdose of drugs or alcohol, whereas he had actually been suffering from food poisoning. The word “intoxicado” in Spanish means “poisoned” not “intoxicated”!

The man was treated for an excess of alcohol – the wrong treatment method as it happened – and developed a brain haemorrhage which subsequently left him a quadriplegic. The hospital was eventually sued for $71 million – just because of a simple translation error. Another notorious example was a mistranslation of something that a Soviet era Russian President had said in a speech to the Americans. His words were translated as saying that the Russians were about to “bury” the Americans. In fact, the real Russian meaning was that they were boasting that they would be still be around in the future when US power would by that time be eclipsed– quite a significant difference! As might be expected, the translation error led to heightened tension and weapons build up between the 2 superpowers.

That being said, there have been many examples of Document Translation Services that have contained unintentional errors. One is in the translation of the founding document of the British settlement of New Zealand. The English version of the Treaty of Waitangi made between representatives of the British Crown and Maori Chiefs was ultimately quite different in its interpretation of the role of the Crown compared to the Maori translation The differences between the two versions have continued to bedevil relationships between the two main ethnic groups in that country ever since.