Effective communication is an integral part of today’s interconnected world, and a small unintentional miscommunication might lead to catastrophic consequences. When communication is conducted in foreign languages, mistakes are more likely to happen and cause extended ramifications. From financial losses and brand reputation damage to health issues, legal troubles, and nuclear wars, translation errors have far-reaching negative impacts across all industries.
Over the course of time, interpretation and translation blunders have jeopardized people’s lives, perverted the course of justice, and caused the worst attack in human history. The cost of mistranslations along with the cost of fixing the damage resulting from these errors are sometimes too high to afford. In this article, we showcase three unforgettable examples of translation errors that came with disastrous results, then delve deeper into the reasons why such mistakes happen and how to avoid them.
- Mistranslation caused paralysis
Time: 1980 – Location: South Florida Hospital – US
Eighteen-year old Willie Ramirez was admitted to South Florida Hospital in a comatose state. His spanish-speaking family were too worried and used the word “intoxicado” to explain to the doctors that he experienced some sort of poisoning. An amatur bilingual interpreter from the hospital staff translated the word into “intoxicated” and doctors quickly started to treat him for drug overdose. A few days later, Ramirez, who turned out to be suffering from brain bleeding, or cerebral hemorrhage, was left quadriplegic or completely paralyzed. His family sued the hospital and were awarded a $71 million in malpractice settlement, not to mention the incurred cost of fixing the reputation damage. This has been one of the most famous and, maybe, expensive interpretation errors across the medical industry.
- Mistranslation ruined international relations
Time: 1977 – Location: Poland
During his visit to Poland, former US president Jimmy Carter had his quotes misinterpreted by Steven Seymour, a freelance interpreter who committed more than one embarrassing pitfall. The US president was expressing his happiness to be in Poland, but the interpreter has apparently got him wrong. Carter was interpreted as saying that he left the United States for good and that he was happy to grasp at Poland’s private lands! Seymour also translated the US president’s statement that he understands the Polish people’s opinions and desires into an inappropriate phrase in Polish. The Polish people were left confused about Carter’s declarations and wondering if he really said so!
- Mistranslation killed 70,000 people
Time: 1945 – Location: Japan
This might be the worst and most costly translation mistake of all time. At the time of the second world war, the US issued the Potsdam Declaration requesting Japan to surrender. The reply from Japan’s Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki was “Mokusatsu”, a Japanese word for “no comment” or “silence”. US interpreters translated Suzuki’s statement as “Ignore with contempt.” and considered it as a clear rejection from Japan. This translation mistake was enough to fuel the conflict that ended up with the worst attack in human history. It was only ten days after this translation blunder when President Harry Truman decided to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was, actually, a translation error that ended the life of more than 70,000 people.
Why do these mistakes happen?
Well, that is a good question; why do interpretation and translation errors happen in the first place? To answer this question we scrutinized tens of cases where inconvenient translation was delivered and concluded that translation mistakes usually happen because of one or more of these three reasons:
- Unprofessional linguists: Most of the translation errors could be attributed to the lack of proficiency and expertise of the linguists. Trusting a translation or interpretation task to an amatur bilingual person who doesn’t have a thorough understanding of both languages would probably result in serious mistakes.
- Rush for translation: Many errors come as a result of the urgency of the matter with the absence of professional interpreters. This happens frequently across the healthcare industry where anyone with bilingual proficiency interprets the urgent communications.
- Tightened costs: Sourcing comprehensive and professional interpretation or translation solutions might be a bit costly, but it is definitely worth it. The cost of the high-priced consequences of mistranslation undoubtedly outweighs the cost of translation itself. Investing in reliable translation always pays off.
How to avoid such interpretation mistakes
In the light of the previous mistranslation cases as well as the reasons why they happen, it turns out finding a professional and specialist language service provider (LSP) is vital. Partnering with a reliable translation or interpretation company with a strong track record of successful projects is the only way to avoid any fatal mistakes. Instead of trusting your translation to an amatur freelancers, a professional translation company would follow the best practices to ensure the flawless quality of translation.
The process of choosing the right translation partner and requesting your service, however, usually takes time, while interpretation tasks are sometimes needed urgently. No worries! Professional LSPs are now offering instantaneous over-the-phone interpretation (OPI) and video-remote interpretation (VRI) solutions for those who need urgent help. All you need to do is call the service provider and submit your request to get instant help from a dedicated and highly qualified interpreter over the phone or on screen.
LatinoBridge at your service
Now that you know how costly interpretation and translation errors are, you must be looking for a professional translation agency with demonstrated expertise in your industry. Since 2010, LatinoBridge has been providing flawless language solutions in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. We follow an impeccable process and deliver a high-quality service at fast turnaround times and reasonable prices. In short, if you are seeking out error-free translation or interpretation services in Latin America’s languages, LatinoBridge has got you covered. Contact us now and request your free quote!