Translating and Interpreting is a very difficult profession. It deals with more than just language. It includes deep cultural knowledge, as well as expertise in a variety of subject matters and themes that require their own terminology. While we are all human and are subject to making mistakes, these can be largely avoided if opting for a professional interpreter of translator with years of experience. This is why it’s so important to opt for professional services, rather than using bilingual staff or freelance individuals. Even the smallest mistakes can cause huge consequences, as the examples below reveal.
2. President Carter "Desiring" the Poles
During a state visit to Poland back in 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter unknowingly made more harm than good when his interpreter, Steven Seymour, caused the Poles to feel very confused and angry due to several mistakes he made in rendering English to Polish. The very first remarks the President made were: “I left the United States this morning”, which the interpreter translated as: “I have abandoned the U.S forever”. Many laughed at the obvious mistake but from then on, the mistakes kept increasing in embarrassment. When President Carter mentioned he had come to learn their opinions and understood their desires for the future, the rendition by the same interpreter was “I desire the Poles carnally”. As if that wasn’t enough, Seymour said the President was happy to grasp at Poland’s private parts, when the President had said he was happy to be in Poland. This diplomatic visit sure took the worst turn, all due to simple interpreting mistakes.
Unfortunately, the interpreter’s rendition was for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. These two completely different statements generated much controversy between Iran and Israel and their allies.
4. The Error that could have been avoided
In 1980, Willie Ramirez received a malpractice settlement of $71 million due to a small interpreting mistake made by a Florida hospital. As he was being admitted in a comatose state, his family tried to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors but they only spoke Spanish. They thought Ramirez was suffering from food poisoning, yet the bilingual staff member who helped them mistranslated “intoxicado” as “intoxicated”: a word a professional interpreter would have known it’s often used as “poisoned” and has no connection to alcohol or drug abuse. By the time the doctors noticed the mistake, Ramirez was left quadriplegic.
5. The 10 Million dollar mistake
Back in 2009, the world’s local bank HSBC had to launch a $10 million re-branding campaign to repair a major blunder in their past catchphrase “Assume Nothing”, which was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in various countries. This was not the best marketing message sent by a private bank seeking to get more clients to use their services. Still, it serves as a lesson for the rest of us to pay more attention to marketing translations, as they may cost your company more than you think.
Avoid being a victim of translation and interpreting mistakes. At JG & Associates, we will keep your reputation intact as we work to provide you with the most accurate renditions. For more information, give us a call at (918)907-1335 or contact us here.