Translation Fails: Funny Examples of Totally Avoidable Translation Errors

Have you ever put something into Google Translate before? Sometimes you get what you’re looking for — if it’s just one word or a structurally simple sentence. Try something a little more complex, though, and you end up with something completely wrong. In many instances, these translation fails aren’t just erroneous — they’re hilarious.

Auto-translation software treats language as if it’s an algorithm to deduce and put back together, but no software is ever advanced enough to capture the nuance and true structure of language as a concept. While these programs may help you understand a language at its most basic level, they certainly shouldn’t be used in any business context where accuracy and fluid communication are paramount.

It’s not all serious, though. Sometimes,  business translation fails aren’t necessarily offensive or insulting... they’re just plain funny! Translation fails are something of a hit on social media, and here are a few big ones from 2016 that had the world in stitches.

Google Translate Turns Russia into “Mordor”

Russia Google Translation Mistake MordorMany people don’t know that Google Translate isn’t just a pre-programmed Internet translation tool. Like other Google tools, the service picks up on evolving language patterns as it goes, in an effort to constantly perfect its translation systems.

However, with new speech patterns, Google Translate can’t tell jokes and slang from real words. As Ukrainian commentators continuously spoke ill of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, referring to the country as “Mordor” (the fictional country and home of the evil Sauron found in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings), Google Translate didn’t recognize this as a joke. Thus, its servers began translating the word “Russia” as “Mordor”.

Nike’s Foot-In-Mouth Shoe Disaster

Campaign Asia ContentIn early 2016, Nike released a new shoe design known as Special Edition Air Force 1, meant to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Each of the shoes could be customized to show off two Chinese characters: on one shoe is the character ‘fa’, and the other shoe the character ‘fu.’ When combined, these characters are supposed to be positive, meaning prosperity and luck. However, when the characters are separated, a different message is shown: “get fat.”

While not necessarily the fault of an auto-translation program, it goes to show that translation requires real insight and understanding of the applications and uses of language. Looks like no one at Nike knew that separating Chinese characters gives them a new meaning.

Political Sign Fails

Latinos para TrumpDuring the 2016 campaign for president of the United States, Republican nominee Donald Trump went on record saying some very controversial things about Hispanics and Mexicans. As a result, his favorability fell drastically within the Latino community. Thus, he had to work hard in an effort to gain that approval rating back.

However, Trump only managed to make social media turn on him when he released political support signs reading “HISPANICS PARA TRUMP.” Spanish-speaking social media users were quick to point out both the non-translation of the word “Hispanics” (which should be “Hispanos” in Spanish),) and the misuse of the word “para.” While the word does mean “for,” the context in which it was used was inappropriate; “por” would be the correct form of the word.

This is an obvious example of Google-Translate-style translating. While no one is sure why “Hispanics” went untranslated, auto-translating programs don’t always catch the context in which a word should be used — thus, “por” and “para” can be interchangeable to a computer, while we know better as humans.

Translation fails can mar a business’ image, even though many people find them to be comical. If you want to avoid embarrassment caused by a silly translation error, don’t just run to Google Translate to convert your content. Use a professional, human translation service.

Acronyms and Common Translation Industry Terms That May Puzzle You

translation-acronymsYou might think that an industry focused on translation to ensure effective communication would avoid using puzzling acronyms, abbreviations, terms and jargon. Nevertheless, the fact is that when you discuss translation industry terms, you'll encounter all of these — and it can be difficult to figure out what the latest bit of alphabet soup and word salad refers to. This guide for those of you who are not familiar with the jargon used in the translation industry should help you understand them a little better.

CAT Tools

Not to be mistaken for the popular pet, in the translation industry, CAT is the acronym for Computer Assisted Translation. CAT supports and facilitates the translation process. Actually, like an actual feline, it has proven to be a great companion… for translators.

CAT accelerates the translation process by transforming source text into smaller translatable segments and organizing them to make the translation process easier for the human translator. As a result, the entire process of translating becomes more time-efficient. These computer systems aid translators with the ability to edit and manage their translations — a collaboration between human and computer that results in  more efficient translation process. However, CAT it is not to be confused with machine translation.

MT (Machine Translation)

Machine translation differs from CAT. It performs the simple substitution of words from one language to another, without the ability to recognize whole phrases, like idioms, that may translate to something entirely different. On this blog, we frequently keep up with stories about advances and problems of MT — it is a promising field that has made great progress over the years, but many argue that MT will never be able to replace professional human translators.

TM (Translation Memory)

A translation memory or TM is a database where “segments” are stored. These segments may be sentences, paragraphs, headings, titles or just about anything that has been translated previously. Translation memories are used in conjunction with CAT tools.

A translation memory is a bilingual file that stores all translations. You can analyze new texts sent by customers against the TM to ensure consistency and even provide discounts for repeated segments of text.

New Words

“New words” are words, sentences or segments that are identified by the CAT tool as not having been repeated in the text, and they're present in the translation memory. Sometimes, these “new words” are the ones that are taken into account and priced accordingly.


As the name implies, repetitions are words, segments or sentences that repeat themselves in the text and that generally do not need to be translated again. However, even in cases of 100% matches, it is important for a human translator to check for changes in context that may require a change in the translation.


Fuzzies are segments or sentences that exist in the translation memory, as a whole or partially, and are not considered as new translation or new words. Fuzzies can also be names or numbers. These might qualify for discounts.

Fuzzy matching is a technique that helps speed up the translation process by finding matches that are near perfect between text segments and other entries. This applies to sentences and phrases. Fuzzy matches are saved in the TM database, and translators will typically perform a search for segments that are between 70 and 99% similar to the phrase or sentence they wish to translate.

We hope this quick overview of some translation industry terms and acronyms helped explain a few things. Are there any other terms that you're unclear about? Let us know!

Global B2B Marketing: Top 3 Reasons Why Translation is Essential

As companies continually strive to expand into international markets, B2B marketing strategies also need to catch up and adapt. To achieve global success, organizations need to apply an approach that takes into account how different cultures will receive the marketing messages, and translation becomes a critical tool in its implementation.

Here are the top 3 reasons why translation is essential in any global B2B marketing campaign:

1. Improving Brand Experience to Meet Cultural Demands

For a B2B marketing campaign targeted at an international market to be successful, we need to clearly distinguish between translation and localization.

Translation being the process of changing the source content by "simply" substituting the words from one language to another, some elements may get lost in translation. Translation services are aware that they need to go beyond literal translations and refine their messaging to bridge language and cultural barriers. Your goal is ultimately to adapt your marketing efforts to the linguistic and cultural peculiarities of a culture. In this way, your clients can relate to the product or service that you propose, while still retaining the essence of your brand.

Translation providers are now “leveling up” by having native-speaker linguists not just translating the words, including context and idioms, but also offering localization tips. This includes suggesting layouts, colors, imagery, fonts, and overall tone. When your potential buyers can relate not only to the words but to the overall presentation of your marketing campaign, you have a captive audience compared with the one you would have lost if they had been confused by a poor choice of words or imagery.

global b2b marketing top 3 reasons why translation is essential2. Influencing Decision-Makers in Purchasing

Despite the fact that most business people usually have a good command of English, a study shows that 75% of non-native English speakers prefer transacting and buying products in their native language, while 60% stated that they very rarely or never purchase from sites exclusively in English.

If the decision-makers with the purchasing power feel comfortable with you because you “speak” their language, then they are more likely to do business with you.

3. Gaining an Edge Against the Growing Competition

If your competitors already translate and/or localize their marketing campaigns, and transact with other businesses on an international playing field, you are losing a large chunk of the market.

Remember that not all translation services advertise that they also offer localization. This is mostly because it is unnecessary to do so. For most translators, it is a given. As they translate to their native language or from a language in which they are fluent, they realize that the most direct translation will not be suitable. Because translation providers will match your needs with the right translator, you should always specify your company’s needs, and in turn, they will let you know if something simply does not “make sense.”

Even if it seems that skipping the translation or localization step will be more cost-effective, it will clearly be a very short-term saving. In the long run, you will lose markets. When your potential customers realize that you have proactively anticipated their needs and adapted your message to their community and culture, they will respect your efforts and ultimately reward you for it.

Employees of Multinational Translation Company, TransPerfect, Face a “Not-so-Perfect” Future

I am publishing this post as myself, Michael Bastin. The views are mine and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of my partners.

As the owner of BeTranslated, I am naturally interested by all things translation-related. In particular, I’ve been closely following the current turmoil of the American language services company, TransPerfect. In a recent court decision in Delaware (USA), founders Elizabeth Elting and Philip R. Shawe are now required to sell TransPerfect, risking the loss of close to 4,500 jobs worldwide. In Barcelona alone, there are 400 jobs at risk. However, the greatest tragedy of this situation is the reason that forced the hands of the Delaware courts in the first place.

How Did Things Get to This Point?

TransPerfect has been a fully profitable company, currently valued at close to 1 billion USD. In fact, they have been experiencing continued growth in recent years. With an annual revenue of nearly 500 million USD, it would seem unthinkable that it could come crashing down with such catastrophic consequences.

But things are not always as they seem. Despite all of their past success, Elting and Shaw have been stuck in a personal battle that began shortly after the company was founded in their college dorm room in 1992. The story reads like a fictional soap opera: from hacked emails to violent personal threats that have been volleyed back and forth over the years, the founders have failed to see the bigger picture of their rash actions.

Twenty years after its humble beginnings, TransPerfect is now one of the world’s largest privately held providers of language and technology solutions. In fact, it announced its best year yet in 2015 when the company topped the half-billion-mark for the first time. Despite the favorable position this placed the company in, Elting and Shawe rejected each others’ bids to take full control of the firm. With little choice left, the judge therefore ruled to empower an administrator to sell TransPerfect to a third party.

Now, those actions have the potential to jeopardize the careers of 4,500 people.

Since July 2016, the translation industry, media, clients, and employees have been kept in suspense over the fate of TransPerfect. Yet, the future still remains undetermined following the legal battle that drags on. Logically, this situation could have been avoided with the sale of 50% of the co-owners. However, with both founders being locked in an impasse, the fate of the company was left to the legal system in Delaware, the state where it was founded. And the Delaware court system works in mysterious ways.

Possible Outcomes in a Less Than Perfect Translation Industry

Decide what to doThe new owner of TransPerfect will obviously be whoever wins the highest bid. However, there is much more beneath the surface to this possibility. The greatest, and very real, fear is that a competitor will take it over at a very low price, swallow all the customers, and delocalize to where labor is cheaper. This decision is what could put the 400 Barcelona-based employees at greatest risk.

Yet, there may be better options that can create better outcomes:

1- It’s quite possible that the top executive members can leave and create their own spinoff, helping to preserve the company and jobs. The question will be if they continue to build on the established brand or start their own company. This recently happened with CLS Communication, where the former employees and executive team walked away to set up their own company.

2- The company could also be acquired by a private fund.

“There are precedents. One of our main competitors, Lionbridge was recently acquired by an investment fund and the company has reduced its headcount in Europe and the US to the bare minimum and closed down offices in Spain and France to relocate to Poland and India. France used to have over 200 employees who have been whittled down to just 20 locally. The operations in Ireland have downsized considerably and moved most of its operations to India.” ~ Barny Wass, VP of TransPerfect in Barcelona.

3- Downsizing, the least desirable of alternative consequences, is also possible.

The reality is that the tendency to outsource to countries where the cost of labor is cheaper has been a constant trend in all industries. This same fate could be what is in store for the current employees if their new owner wants to cut costs and eradicate the TransPerfect brand as a competitor.

It would truly be a shame for the talented translators of TransPerfect Barcelona to give up their professions entirely. TransPerfect has been the envy of anyone who has ever envisioned creating a start-up in their garage and achieving phenomenal success. Despite the undeniable prosperity of the company, things are turning sour and what really matters to me is the fate of all these employees across Europe.

Will Greed Prevail?

As with any divorce, those who pay the greatest price will always be the children. In this case, the children are represented by the employees of a company driven by greed and pride.

We wish those employees the best in these uncertain times.

The translation industry is a booming sector. However, as someone who has built a business on the passion for languages and communications, I find it disheartening to see the industry being damaged by profit-making operations run by monolingual, irrational leaders.

This situation has held personal concern for me on many levels. In the beginning of my career, (a subsidiary of TransPerfect) gave me a huge boost, entrusting me with the translations of a major international sports apparel maker. As well, I have dear friends based in Barcelona who, along with the other 400 employees there are now awaiting the fate of their own careers. Barcelona has a special place in my life, as with many others, and we can’t be insensitive to the impact this could have on the city.

From a business owner's point-of-view, I have always somewhat envied the development of TransPerfect. However, as the founder of BeTranslated, I knew my business model has always been different from that of mega-agencies. It was never my intention to grow too big and lose that valuable human touch between project managers and translators.

There was a point in time when I considered getting support from a larger company to expand my services. However, I realized that for me, the enjoyment of my life’s work is the opportunity to be responsible for me and my family, rather than about guaranteeing a monthly salary to hundreds of employees.

More than ever, I seek to maintain the company mission of my boutique agency: to retain the human touch and connection with my clients and colleagues. There’s room for players of all sizes and shapes in the translation industry. This could prove to be a new era of consolidations.

With the future of TransPerfect still uncertain, I am open and receptive if former employees want to join forces.

If you have liked this article, do not hesitate to share it.

Happy holidays!


Author’s bio

Michael Bastin is a freelance translator, SEO, Project Manager and entrepreneur. After 15 years in Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic he has now relocated to Spain. He has had his fair share of start-up experiences setting up businesses in different parts of the world. Be it a travel agency in Mexico, a language school in the Dominican Republic, a multilingual SEO consultancy and, of course, BeTranslated, a virtual translation agency.

More on this here (if you understand Catalan). This story was also relayed in other major Spanish news website and in the New York Times.

7 Questions to Ask Before Your Next B2B Translation

If your goal is to expand your company beyond domestic or even international markets that predominantly speak English, you will realize how important it is for you communicate your message to your global market as accurately and as efficiently as you have been doing with your English-speaking customers.

You have probably recognized that B2B translation is now more of a necessity than a luxury if you want your future B2B marketing campaigns to be successful. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the right translation service for your business.

1. Who is your audience?

The tone of the message conveyed will depend on the readership.

2. Is there a need for your product in that market?

When you’ve identified who your audience is, you can put your focus on the language that requires translation.

3. Would your product benefit more from a translator who also speaks the language of your industry?

Considering that B2B covers all industries, translation often needs to go beyond just basic language in many cases. For example, if you are looking to expand your services to a software company in Germany, it would be beneficial for you to have an English to German translator who is also familiar with tech jargon.

Translation services have been keen on finding translators who are not only native speakers, who can communicate accurately and on a cultural level, but who also specialize in specific fields such as information technology, healthcare, finance or insurance.

4. Which languages do you need to translate into?

Will you need French as used in France or, if your customers are in Belgium, would you prefer to use the services of a Belgian translator? This may seem like a detail when considering translating, but it can imply significant differences based on your industry.

5. Will you need to localize parts of your message?

Once you’ve established what your target market is and the language that you need to translate into, you need to recognize if there are parts of your message that ought to be localized to serve a specific region.

Localization is the second phase, going beyond basic translation to adapt the cultural background of your message and giving you a stronger connection to your audience.

6. Have you considered translating your company’s website?

If you hope to have a strong presence in the country of your target market, it would be advisable to translate your website into the language used where your products will be sold.

When you make an effort to communicate, your audience will respond positively and appreciate it. The last thing you want to do is use an automated translation option for your website, because these can’t identify context, and you may end up “saying” something regrettable and embarrassing. Not everything has a direct translation.

7. Will the country require you to comply with local regulations?

You may encounter a country or a region that will require to you translate information found on your product packaging, such as disclaimers or instructions.

Again, it is absolutely critical to have an excellent and, more importantly, accurate translation for this information, as it could lead to a lawsuit or injury if the message is not delivered correctly.

The essence of language is communication. If you have found success in communicating your products, company mission and goals in English, you should be aiming to deliver the same clear message to your international market in the language they understand and present it in a way that makes sense. Feel free to contact BeTranslated for your translation needs.