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A-Z of Translation – the letter C:

Moving on to the letter C, we are getting political (and behind the wheel):

Context – It’s not often that translation hits the headlines, but a couple of examples in recent years demonstrate the critical importance of knowing the context when translating something (which is just one reason why most translators don’t like those phone calls asking for instant translation of a word or phrase).

In 2009, an incorrect translation on the “reset” button presented by Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, to her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, attracted worldwide media attention. With cameras rolling, Mr Lavrov pointed out that the Russian translation was wrong (apparently, it said “overcharge”, rather than “reset”). The translator must have been poorly briefed, and no one seems to have checked the translation. (Another factor may have been the widespread belief that there is normally only one possible translation – something we’ll come back to in a later blog post.)

An off-context translation can also do reputational damage in the business world, of course. When Ford launched the first official European version of the Mustang in 2005, several motoring journalists in Germany commented on the translation used for “track mode”. Here again, the translator must have been not properly briefed (or maybe just ignorant), because “track” had been translated as “farm track” rather than “race track”. The mind boggles at the thought of someone driving a powerful V8-engined car on a rough track with maxed-out performance settings. At least they’d notice the error of their ways pretty quickly, unless they had nerves of steel…

So the takeaway is that the more your translation provider knows about how and where the translation will be used, the better.

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