Do you need an experienced translator or can you use Google Translate on your website / brochure / signs?
In 2017 we put it to the test, resulting in some hilarious fails like the ones below!
Spanish translation fail
"A woman riding her motorbike in leathers stopped to give a light to a boy in overalls carrying a jack and a milling cutter".
If you enter the Spanish and then translate it the other way, this gives:
"A woman riding a motorcycle in leathers stopped to give birth to a boy in the monkey wearing a cat and a strawberry".
Thanks to Martmeister on the Duolingo chat - Having fun with Google Translate - for discovering this!
We translated "The trainers wore trainers and left on trains" into French
When we converted this back from French to English again, it gave the following:
As well as the differences between "left on" and "left them on", the other major challenge is contextualising the different words in the sentence.
German dogs and cats
When translating "my dog has a hangover" to German it becomes "My dog has a cat"!
If you're looking to convert dog speak to human speak, you might have more success with Google's Translate for Animals app.
Sometimes when you translate something with Google, it becomes meaningless, or what I like to call 'Googledygook'. Here's an example:
"The court awarded costs to the defendant."
The German translation for this is:
"Das Gericht hat dem Angeklagten Kosten gekostet." When you translate it back into English it becomes:
Funny Dutch Translation
Double Dutch means to talk gibberish and there are certainly some funny examples of this when you use Google translate!
For example "Beat around the bush" means to talk indirectly on a subject. In Dutch this becomes "versla de bush". When you translate this back, it becomes:
Russian to Elvish Translation?
It's now been fixed, but in 2016 Google had a bug that translated "Russian Federation" to "Mordor", the home of Sauron, the evil wizard in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books.
You may ask how this came to be? The BBC article covers this story in detail.
It doesn't have to be a fail to be funny!
It's not just the fails that prove entertaining, sometimes the accurate translations can be funny too!
But are human translators always better than Google?
While we expect a certain consistency from Google, there are some famous historical mistranslations, some of which changed the world forever. Here are a few:
The Glass Slipper in Cinderella
The story of Rhodopis - a Greek slave girl who marries the king of Egypt from around 2,000 years ago is normally considered the origins of the Cinderalla story, however many variants have been written since, several involving a, "Pantoufle de vair," or slipper made of squirrel fur.
The most popular version of Cinderalla in the English speaking world today originates from a translation from the French version by Charles Perrault in Histoires ou contes du temps passé, written in 1697. This refers to a "Pantoufle de verre," a glass slipper!
There is some speculation about whether this was a deliberate mistranslation by Charles Perrault, however other than the word, "Verre," there is nothing that indicates the slipper is made of glass - no mention that it's fragile, that the light reflects of it, and the ladies in the story don't seem to find it at all unusual that someone would wear a glass slipper. Whether this was a deliberate stroke of genius by Perrault, or an accidental mistranslation, we will never know.
Can leaky Parker pens make you pregnant?
The Parker Pen Company promises customers that they will have, "A pen that won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you."
Unfortunately when they translated, "embarrass," into Spanish for their marketing campaign in Mexico, they mistranslated it as, "embarazar," which is a faux amis and actually means, "pregnant".
The full translation was released in Mexico as, "no goteará en tu bolsillo ni te embarazará," which actually means:
"A pen that won't lead in your pocket and make you pregnant."
Thank you Parker Pens for reassuring us on that front!