Saturday, November 01, 2008

You can't make these things up

The story making the rounds of the translation industry today is yet another indication of the power of bad translations. I've already received 12 e-mails with links to the BBC story of the bilingual road sign in Wales that reads "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only" in English, but "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated." In Welsh. 

Mis-translated bilingual road sign

This story falls in the same category of the Chinese restaurant that used a free machine translation website to convert its name into English and printed a giant sign for its façade saying "Translate server error." 


In terms of viral capacity, this story will probably rank in the same category of the Berlitz video for its language schools in Germany, which clogged my mailbox with its 3MB everytime that it was sent to me (By the way, if you want to circulate a funny video, check first if it wasn't already published in YouTube... it's much easier to just send the link than add the video as an attachment to your message).

Now seriously, what do we learn from this?

  • Translation is for professionals. I can hear the linguists around the world jumping to use this as proof that machine translation doesn't work. Well, the Welsh story is actually just an Out-of-Office reply that the client thought was the translation for the text he or she requested. The client actually sought a professional to do the job.
  • Machine translation should be a productivity tool. If you follow my postings or presentations, you should know by now that I believe that translators should use MT to improve their productivity and it is only useful if you know the language into which the text is being translated. The second picture is a clear example of a person who did not have any command of English and trusted the internet to translate his sign.
  • Signs continue to be a translator's best friend. Before the internet, stories about bad translations in hotel signs were a favorite past time. They circulated by letter, telex and later by fax.
  • Only bad translations make the news. When was the last time you saw a story about a good translation? Did you ever?

Monday, October 27, 2008

5Qs with Me

Here's a story on the power of leaving comments on other people's blogs.

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend in the world - Google Alerts - picked up that Sarah Dillon, a translator and blogger in Australia had the keyword "Common Sense Advisory" included in one of her entries.

Without delay or hesitation I went there and read a quick interview that Sarah had with Christian Arno, from Lingo24, in which he mentioned that he liked to read The Global Watchtower. I left a quick comment and voilà... Sarah invited me to give her an interview for her 5Qs section.

If you want to read my insightful responses to her five questions, just go here. And while you are there, read the other posts, too. Mine is only the fourth interview in a series.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Help Preserve a Language

I just saw this very interesting video from Pop!Tech, and thought of sharing it with you. You have read about dotSUB here in my blog a few times, and now you have a chance to use it for something fun, instructive and social in nature.

This video is a presentation delivered at Pop!Tech 2008 titledd Scarcity and Abundance. In it, ethnolinguist K. David Harrison discussed how language death leads to intellectual impoverishment in all fields of science and culture. He also detailed efforts to sustain, value and revitalize linguistic diversity worldwide.

If you want to Help translate this video, this is what you need to do: 
  1. Register for free at
  2. Once you are a dotSUB user, click on the orange "translate this video" link located at the bottom of this video player.
  3. Begin translating the video at dotSUB's site, and your translation will be immediately available on this site for anyone to see, add to, or edit.  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.

I have spent the last month travelling. Today, reading an airline magazine article ranking places and restaurants, I thought of a line of one of my favorite movies, Blade Runner. Rutger Hauer says it before dying: “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those ... moments will be lost in time, like tears... in rain. Time to die. “

Except for the time to die part, I sometimes feel like that. So, taking advantage of my blog (yeah, I know, haven’t written anything forever), here are some of my Best of 2008 (so far).

Best event location. Vendor Management Seminar in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Best cocktail location. ELIA Networking Days in Lisbon (photo). The view of the Lisbon skyline from Hotel Chiado at dusk was amazing.

Best conference room. IV Financial Translation Conference organized by CLS at the Madrid Stock Exchange. It was surreal to see the big board with a straight line down in the middle of the worldwide financial crisis.

Best conference lunch. Our own Localization Vendor Management Colloquium at the Westin Copley Place in Boston. An unexpected surprise in the middle of the day with tasty salads and seafood.

Best translation company offices. This year I visited several offices around the world and I must say that I was impressed by two great locations. The C-Soft new headquarters in Beijing are very modern, functional and beautiful. I was honored to be invited to their grand opening.

LanguageWire’s offices in Copenhagen (picture) have that Scandinavian coolness in an historic building on a cobblestone alley. I was lucky that it was a sunny autumn day, so much so that it made me wish I worked there. However, no corner office beats Alejandro Aguirre’s from Omni Technologies in Guatemala!

Best skyline. The event organized by SunFlare at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo gave me the chance to see all of Tokyo from the 50th floor of a building on a hill. Once again, I was lucky and it was a clear night. The rain only fell the next day!

Best post-event. This week I spoke at an event for Kommunicera in Västerås, Sweden, and I was treated to a great surprise after the event. A concert of the Soweto Gospel Choir. That was fun!

Best agenda. I like the attitude of both ELIA and IMTT who organize events with a Latin flair when it comes to the agenda. IMTT organizes their Vendor Management Seminars in great locations (the next one is in Egypt) and the agenda serves as a guideline for the event. Both ELIA and IMTT allow plenty of time for networking, lunches and dinners. Common Sense Advisory's research shows that these are the parts of events that people appreciate the most. Instead of trying to fit three tracks in a day, these events do the opposite and try to fit a one day event in two or three days. A much better pace!