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December 27, 2018 |

#TranslationFail 2018 – Hilarious Translation Fails This Year

Translation fails are part of the industry, whether we like it or not. Some of the errors are hilarious (because they happen to someone else), while others simply don’t make any sense. Many of these translation fails could have been avoided if the people in charge had simply asked for professional assistance.

From deadly combinations of words to amusing errors caused by the use of free translation software, here are some of the most hilarious translation errors we’ve seen in 2018.

Coca-Cola’s Mix of Languages Translates into “Hello, Death”

Translating and localizing your marketing message can help you to build a strong local presence in each market that you target. But at the same time, translating your marketing content can involve falling into traps, making errors, and embarrassing translation fails–especially when working with rare target languages.

When translating for marketing purposes, the message should be creatively adapted, without diminishing communication efficiency. However, sometimes, trying too hard can have negative consequences on a brand’s local image.

It happened to Coca-Cola earlier this year when the brand decided to mix English and te reo Māori, New Zealand’s indigenous language.

It’s the proof that translation fails happen at all levels, and even the biggest brands can fail the language test. Coca-Cola advertised “Kia ora, Mate” on a vending machine, in an attempt to mix two languages from New Zealand, English and Māori.

Unfortunately, the combination translates into the native language as “Hello, Death.” Not exactly what the company had expected, especially as half of the Māori adult population is obese, and one in five Māori children have to counter obesity as well.

This lethal combination of languages generated a wave of outrage online. People tweeted messages like “The Coca-Cola company gains self-awareness?” or “Totally spot on it does mean death for a lot of Indigenous people” in reply to Coca-Cola’s translation gaffe.

Most probably, this incident won’t cause too much damage to Coca-Cola’s global image, since we’re talking about one of the most famous brands worldwide. However, this type of localization error can generate huge expenses for smaller companies.   

Translation Fails When Microsoft Translates for You

As language services providers, we often tell our clients not to trust free automated translation software for their business translations. Even if we’re impressed with the progress it has made in the last few years, automation can’t still provide accurate versions of content in other languages.

Microsoft’s translation app caused one of the most controversial translation errors that went viral in 2018. A congratulatory message accidentally became an insult online, in a poor automated translation.

The English-speaking world was shocked to see Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai being called a “real cow” by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter. The original congratulatory tweet written in Hebrew said “Neta, you are a real darling. You have brought much respect for the State of Israel. Next year in Jerusalem!

The automated translation provided by Microsoft, however, said “Neta, you are a real cow…(!)” Microsoft seemed very confused about some terms, as the same app translated the message in Spanish as “Neta eres una verdara vaca,” which is close to the English version and has nothing in common with the original text.

It seems like this kind of error can’t harm anyone. However, it reveals a lot about the accuracy of automated translations.

When You Rely Too Much on Google Translate

Not only Microsoft but also Google Translate can create hilarious situations, such as receiving 15,000 eggs, after placing the wrong order on a local website. A team of chefs from Norway learned not to trust translation apps during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.  

The chefs needed 1,500 eggs from a local Korean grocery store. However, since none of them spoke the local language, they placed the order after translating it from Norwegian to Korean with Google Translate. No one knows how Google managed to add another zero in translation. The result? “There was literally no end to the delivery,” stated Chef Ståle Johansen, who was in charge of preparing the meals of Norway’s athletes.

This isn’t the only time people and brands have created confusion with Google’s help. Twitter is full of images that show hilarious content caused by translation fails.

Let’s take a look at this warning we found on Twitter: “There is a bitten thing. Do not put the finger.” Not sure what it means, but it doesn’t sound like something pleasant!

Or, this product description revealed by another Twitter user: “For every modern woman it is necessary to buy one pair of shoes, which can be quickly recovered and drowned from home.” Would you buy from them? We don’t think so!

Google Translation can only do so much, and it can turn into a useful tool in some life situations–not for ordering eggs, apparently. However, it’s not wise to use machine translation for marketing and selling your products, no matter how limited your budget is.

And here’s yet another example of a brand that hasn’t taken its communication too seriously. “Gut and Style Your Character’s Hair”–whatever could it mean?

It’s hilarious when it happens to somebody else. But brands that use Google Translate or similar software for their business risk damaging their reputation. People won’t take you seriously if you don’t respect their native language.

As a brand, large or small, you can’t build a global presence or make an excellent first impression with major translation fails in your marketing strategy.

Brexit White Paper Is Full of Translation Errors

Marketing isn’t the only domain where translation errors can slow down processes and create chaos. Sometimes important organizations get lost in translation inexplicably. The British Government managed to massacre a white paper on Brexit in most of the 22 languages in which it had it translated into.

“Translations of the government’s Brexit white paper are pretty bad. The tone is really off, wrong words used. The menu page even spells the names of several languages wrong. (German, Finnish, Estonian),” explained interpreter Daniel Pashley.

Native speakers from other European countries labeled the translated document as “horrible,” and most of them preferred to read the original English version to understand the right meaning of the content.

The British Government, it seems, used strange, out-of-date and even made-up words in its translations. Their epic translation fails even happened at the most basic level. Instead of using the word “Deutsch,” they wrote “Deutsche.” This is just basic sloppiness and this kind of error goes down like a led balloon no matter who you’re localizing for.

What would happen if your company misspelled German in German? No brand wants to end up on Twitter with hashtag #translationfail stuck to its name.

The Takeaway

The above examples are just some of the reasons you need qualified translators and interpreters when you plan global strategies. Learning when to rely on machine translation and when to have human translators working on your content can help you to build a solid presence in local markets and connect with local audiences.

Counting on Google or Microsoft to do the job for you may end up with you sending the wrong messages to your target public. You may even offend people accidentally–which is even worse than having 15,000 eggs coming your way!