Literal Translation Pitfalls | Blog

Literal Translation Pitfalls

Literal Translation Pitfalls

Thursday, December 06, 2012

We had a bit of a chuckle in our office this week regarding a news story that appeared in China's “People's Daily Online” taking seriously a satirical publication, “The Onion,” that announced the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was the Sexiest Man Alive.

 The “People’s Daily Online” reprinted these quotes:  With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman's dream come true. Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper's editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile," The “People’s Daily Online” staff spent additional time putting together the 55-page photo spread of the North Korean leader which included him holding children, riding horses and greeting his troops. Realising the blunder, the link was removed within 24 hours.

As a translation language service provider, we can relate to this story. Humour and satire are extremely difficult to translate. To capture the essence, the translator must truly be proficient in both languages and understand the cultural nuances. The “People’s Daily Online” translating staff were fooled by not understanding the satire and produced a literal translation. Literal translations are all too common. In our agency we notice these translations everywhere -on packages, marketing materials, websites and the list goes on and on. Many of us have encountered literal translations while attempting to assemble imported goods. A translation that is inadequate or completely off the mark can be unfortunate. We can have a bit of a chuckle about the Sexiest Man Alive article and toss away the useless assembly directions, but I would dare to say it may take a while for the translation staff at the “People’s Daily Online” to get over the recent embarrassment  in their Chinese Translation.


Karen CEO 70

Written by:
Karen Hodgson, CEO of Translationz

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