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15 Funny Stories in the World of Translation!

It’s tough, but it sometimes involves exciting and comic moments!

Learning a new language is a long process. You can’t master it overnight.  And, when it comes to becoming proficient at the new language to the level of translating from or into it, the task normally takes more time and effort in addition to the risk of facing several funny situations. But why?

Because translation is basically a form of cross-cultural communication where mistakes are an integral part of the entire process. However, translation blunders often involve funny stories. Let’s refresh our day with some of them

Funny Stories in Latin America!

A friend of ours was grappling with the Spanish language in Mexico. He was complaining about the hot weather. So, instead of saying “Odio el calor”, which means “I don’t like the heat”, he said: “Me odio”, which means “I hate myself”. He shouldn’t, should he?!

Another nice lady was having lunch with her colleagues and was experimenting with her Spanish. She wanted to say “Tengo hambre”, which means “I’m hungry”, but mispronounced it as “Tengo hombre”, which means “I have a man”. Who cares?!

Another friend ─ who was learning Spanish ─ was asked what people used to eat somewhere in Latin America. He wanted to reply with “‘mariscos”, which means “seafood/shellfish”. Unluckily, he used the word “mariposas”. The meaning, however, is “butterflies”, which is less tasty!

Another unlucky girl who was learning Spanish wanted to tell her classmates that she liked to ride a horse, which is “Me gusta montar Caballo” in Spanish. Unfortunately, she said: “Me gusta montar caballeros”, which means: “I like to ride men”. Should she say “gentlemen” instead?!

And the other way round too! A very decent Spanish-speaking lady who was not very great at English said to a group of men in America: ‘Hey, gays!’. Of course, she meant to say “Hey, guys!” Gender counts! Also, a sign at a Mexican nightclub says: “Members and non-members only”. Comprehensive meaning, isn’t it?!

Another Spanish-speaking guy has learned that “Ma’am” is a good word to say to ladies in an English environment. Yet, he used to say it to men too!

Comic Tales in Jakarta!

Amidst the hot weather of Jakarta, Indonesia, an American student, struggling with the Indonesian language, wanted to ask the passenger sitting next to him to open the window. Unfortunately, he used the word “celana”, meaning “pants”, instead of the word “gendela”, meaning “window”. So, he asked the guy to open his (not her, Thank God!) pants because it’s hot. Very hot!

And, once upon a time, a Dutch female told her Indonesian friend that she had eaten a delicious “kepala”, meaning “head”. In fact, she just wanted to say that she had eaten a delicious “kalap”, meaning “coconut”. Not a very big difference anyway!

Interestingly, still in Jakarta people used to silently watch a sign at a car service shop saying: “Cat Oven”!

Hilarious Stories East and West!

And the comic communication resulting from translation mistakes is spreading all over the world. In Australia, on the main road, people read a sign saying: “Take notice: when this sign is underwater; this road is impassable”!

In Japan, a car rental agency has a brochure that says on one page: “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor”!

In Hong Kong, a dentist ran an ad in English, which read: “Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists”!

In the Philippines, a motorist was so generous as to place a sign on his car saying: “Car and owner for sale”!

In Thailand, donkey rides are a good hobby. So, an ad addressing English-speaking tourists said: “Would you like to ride on your own ass?”. And, in the capital Bangkok, a sign at one of the temples read: “It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man”!

What about Cambodia? An American working there wanted to express her admiration for a tasty lunch. Grappling with the Cambodian language, Khmer, she just said: “It was made of meat”. Soooo complimentary!

On another funny occasion, the husband of an American lady was asked by Cambodians about his job. He wanted to say proudly that he was a student, but said, in Khmer: “I’m a horse”. Sure, he isn’t!

Enough with Asia? Let’s head for Europe. In Italy, a doctor’s office had a sign, apparently addressing English-speaking folks, saying: “Specialist in women and other diseases”. Sure, he isn’t a specialist in men and other healthy habits! And, in the capital Rome, a sign at a laundry read: “Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time”. Women didn’t act upon it by the way!

So, what do all these funny stories mean? Are they just fun?

Life is a series of lessons!

“Life is a series of lessons in which there is never enough learned”, says Diamond Ryan, the African American poet, singer, songwriter, and painter.

So what? So, we need to admit it. When it comes to language mastery, it’s not a one-shot act. Rather, it’s a process in the course of which we learn, make mistakes, and learn from them. Yes, we might face funny situations and make funny mistakes.

But who is perfect? Was Alexander Pope right when he insisted that “To err is human”?