By definition, signs are public displays. They are intended to be seen by passersby and to provide relevant and accurate information. It’s reasonable to assume, therefore, that the people responsible for creating these objects would put some time and effort into getting them right. However, things don’t always go exactly to plan, especially when foreign languages are involved . Poor-quality translations can lead to inaccurate, confusing and, sometimes, downright hilarious results.
If you’re considering skimping on your signage translations, the following examples may make you think twice.
The dangers of automated messages
Automated email and computer messages can be useful. However, if they’re provided in other languages, it seems they have the potential to cause major embarrassment. Swansea Council is all too aware of this fact. In 2008, officials at the local authority had asked for a sign to be translated into Welsh. They got a reply and proceeded to arrange for the message to be printed on a sign under English text that read: “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only.” Unfortunately, rather than mirroring this statement, the Welsh message stated: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.” No doubt there were some red faces in Swansea Council’s offices when the mistake was discovered.
Thousands of miles away in China, a restaurant fell foul of a similar problem. Rather than trying to tempt English speaking passersby with an alluring reference to its tasty cuisine, the eatery opted for a big, bold, green sign that simply read: “Translate server error.” Not exactly textbook marketing technique.
Sticking with the theme of restaurants, an establishment next to the Hill Tribe Museum in Chiang Rai, Thailand, no doubt surprised diners with a sign stating: “Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.” Meanwhile, an eatery in Egypt may have been giving diners more than they bargained for. It featured a dish on its menu described as “Half Grilled Chicken & Herpes”.
The Chinese are renowned for their use of many different ingredients in their food, but one establishment in Beijing seemed to take this a step too far, serving a dish it dubbed “Spicy Grandma”. Meanwhile, another restaurant in China went undeniably off piste by serving a dish it called “wild speculation”.
A comedy of errors
Another classic example of a message that was lost in translation no doubt caused plenty of confusion among English speaking motorists in China. Drivers were confronted by a sign containing the English phrases “Warm tips” and “Please do not chase, slapstick”.
Other examples from this vast country include a sign that should have read “ethnic museum” but was instead translated to “racist park” and an informative note left outside a drinking establishment that read: “Bar is presently open because it is not closed.” Meanwhile, there may have been a few nervous glances near to a sign that stated, ominously: “Take luggage of foreigner. No charge.”
Steering clear of signage faux pas
To ensure that your organisation doesn’t end up making signage faux pas that could confuse people or leave you shamefaced, it’s important that you select an excellent quality translation service provider. Experienced, skilled and reliable firms can help ensure you to produce signs that are spot on in any language. In contrast, relying on guesswork or automated translations is a risk, and it could damage your reputation. Although mistakes on signs may cause amusement, they can also make you look amateur and untrustworthy.
Luckily, it’s now easier than ever to find translation specialists. Firms like London Translations offer a host of services and should be perfectly placed to help you.