The BBC show ‘Episodes’, starring famous Friend Matt le Blanc, has become infamous in Israel without it ever even being broadcast there. Sadly not for its comic writing or cast list, however, but because a gravestone inscription appearing in one scene was badly translated by the show’s makers. The stone, as per Jewish tradition, is bilingual – in English and Hebrew – but it looks like the Hebrew part was found using a free online translator rather than a professional translation company.

The English version of the stone reads “dearly missed”, a quite common inscription found on headstones around the world and perfectly tasteful. Not so for the Hebrew version – the deceased became “pickled at great expense”! What’s more, the Hebrew text is written backwards because those who wrote it did not consider that the Hebrew language runs in the opposite direction to English.

You would wonder why the BBC might cause themselves such potential embarrassment rather than paying the translation cost to get a professional translation done. We expect well-known, respected and official organisations to provide text, in all languages, that is accurate and reliable, and to discover that this isn’t the case is embarrassing for them but off-putting for those who use their service. Languages vary when it comes to translation, with some being ‘easier’ than others. English to Spanish translation, for example, is easier than English to Hebrew because of the high number of words in Hebrew that have multiple meanings and the relationship between the ancient and modern languages. Cultural implications also play a huge part, including local practices which are not necessarily known or understood outside of the country of origin. These are not something which can be given a quick fix through an online translator, but instead require a professional translation which will spend time researching and understanding the text, the context and the culture.

The BBC are not alone in their bloopers however. At the start of the year, Malaysia’s Defence Ministry had to rewrite their English website, having previously relied on Google Translate’s version. The latter translated “revealing attire” as “clothes that poke eye” when describing the ministry’s dress code bans. Again, one would expect a certain level of quality from an official government website, no matter what the translation cost.

Mistranslations are not always as funny as these examples, but rather can have serious consequences. Peace in Syria and Egypt was perhaps prevented (and certainly not aided) by the mistranslation of Lavrov’s claim regarding the US arming the Syrian opposition, and Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian killer who went on a rampage last year, was mistranslated by court interpreters as invoking “self-defence”, rather than “necessity” (what he actually said), both terms holding different legal implications in Norwegian law. Similarly, CNN was banned in Iran in 2006 because it mistranslated nuclear comments by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Whether you’re looking for an English to Spanish translation, or for a translation into one of these more complex languages such as Hebrew, Arabic or Chinese, contact us here at Wolfestone to avoid embarrassment, humour or legal implications. A fast-growing and multi-award winning translation company, we will most certainly be able to provide you with a quality and accurate translation.

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