Biggest Localization / Translation Blunders of 2016

Translators hold the keys to the world. While many localization mistakes and mistranslations are a source of enormous entertainment, some can come with a very hefty price tag (figuratively and literally). It is particularly true when translating or localizing marketing and political communications.

Every year boasts its own set of pearls showcasing what happens when poor translation meets insufficient QA. 2016 was no exception. Let’s recap our experience on the translation/localization front.

“A Sad Horse” Lives in the Land of Mordor Russia…

Machine translation tools such as Google Translate can be very handy when trying to get a gist of a Facebook post in a foreign language or a phrase you heard or read somewhere. It is even intelligent enough to adapt with the times and learn new meanings of an existing word. According to the BBC, Google Translate exhibited the high aptitude for picking up slang as a result of a flurry of internet chatter following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Online commentators in the Ukraine began referring to Russia as “Mordor,” and  Google Translate picked up on it.”Listening Google Translate to translate from Ukrainian into Russian in January 2016.  A glitch caused the service to translate “Russia” into “Mordor,” the fictional home of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.

Google Translate translation of “Russian Federation” in Ukranian to “Mordor” in Russian.

Additionally, the surname of Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, was translated to “sad little horse.”

Marketing Warfare – Maps in Localization

Coca Cola Crimea Controversey

Since we are on the subject of Russia, Coca-Cola shoved itself into the spotlight and on the map of biggest localization goofs in history.

In late December 2015 and early January 2016, Coca-Cola company found itself in the middle of the Crimea conflict between Ukraine and Russia could not decide which side it was taking. Ukrainian and Russian users of Twitter were outraged after American soft drink company Coca-Cola published a promotional illustration of Russia without the annexed region of Crimea. After Russian outcry, the company modified the image and published a new one with Crimea attached, but Ukrainians were understandably unhappy about such update. A Coca-Cola representative later shifted the blame to a third-party agency who they accused of operating without their consent or approval.

Cultural Assumptions Backfire

Dior’s limited-edition keychain celebrating the year of the monkey

2016 was the Year of the Monkey, which prompted some fashion brands to capitalize on the tradition to honor a particular animal of the year with special merchandise. Their efforts did not translate to desired response or profits.

Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Givenchy tried hard to cash in on their efforts to play on the cultural reference through monkey-related products. All three received a very negative response and were totally unappreciated by the Chinese audience. All three merchants missed the mark on trying to incorporate a culturally specific idea.

Luis Vuitton’s attempt to capitalize on the Year of the Monkey

It is good to pay attention to cultural differences and be aware of cultural references, but it is a dicey territory and can easily go wrong.

Nike’s Translation Mis-Step

Nike's localization mis-step with it's Air Force 1 launch in China

In 2016, Nike had its own problems with the Chinese New Year translation.  It’s Special Edition Air Force 1 shoe was offered with characters 發 (‘fa’) and 福 (‘fu’) embroidered on the heels.  Viewed separately, the characters mean “prosperity” and “luck.” Viewed side-by-side, as they indeed appeared in the ad featuring the product, however, the shoes spelled a different story: “Get fat.” It’s not quite the same message, is it?

Nike responded to say that each pair of shoes would only have one of the two characters, not one of each. Regardless, Quality Assurance team at Nike should have realized the potential for issues with such choice of words.

The Sun Misses Deadline

Transfer deadline day in football (or soccer, as Americans know it) is a big deal, sending journalists on hunting expeditions through publications and other sources to pick up information on their local stars. Many times, it is foreign publications that are being perused, in which case online translation are used to quickly get the gist of the information found. In a rush to break a story first, The Sun newspaper did not bother with human eye to review translated material. As a result, it failed to confirm the name of the publication from which the story was sourced. It announced a link between football club Middlesbrough and “former Ajax captain Ekstra Bladet.” Sounds exciting, yet who is Estra Bladet? It appears to be the name of the news source…

DC Comics Guffs It With “Pakastanian” Caption

DC Comics Superman / Wonderwoman

In January 2016, DC Comics was criticized by a Pakistani writer Kaver Siddiqi a caption in Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #2 that noted that translation in the comic was derived from the “Pakistanian” language. Since Pakistan’s official national language is Urdu, where does “Pakistanian” language come from? DC Comics never commented on the issue.

Welsh Mis-Translation Sends Customers Across the Ocean

B&Q, a British multinational DIY and home improvement store moves to the USA?

B&Q Welsh translation gaffe directs shoppers to US – BBC News

When a Welsh B&Q store near Aberystwyth changed addresses, they put up signs in Welsh to advise customers of the move. Unfortunately, the signs suggested customers go find “United States” instead of “us,” using the Welsh translation “Unol Daleithiau.””

With Google Translate – trust but verify, folks!

Donald Trump: Free Speech Still Needs QA

Donald Trump is not exactly known for filtering his speech. His campaign does not hold QA in high regard, either. At the Republican National Convention, his campaign attempted to gain Hispanic votes by having members of the crowd stand up with signs that read “Hispanics for Trump,” in Spanish.

Two out of three words on that sign were mistranslated. The only word rendered correctly was “Trump.” “Hispanics” should have been translated to Hispanos. And while “para” could be translated as “for,” it’s used in a different context. The sign should have said “por.”

As  NYU lecturer Félix Manuel Burgos explained to the Huffington Post:

“If you want to express support for someone with your vote, it should be “por.” That is the preposition that goes with the verb “votar.”

“Para” doesn’t make sense in that context, unless you work for him, that is the preposition that goes with “trabajar.” … [But] actually the best option would have been “con,” that expresses general support. “Latinos con Trump.” But I don’t think they will print many of those signs.”

Let’s hope Mr. Trump take
s translations are a bit more carefully during his time in office.

Chinese Menus Get Fried

“Authorities Fry Hard to Fix Korean Menus Lost in Translation” is the headline of a story in Korea Times about government attempts to clean up translation errors in Chinese menus.

Chinese Menu Translation Gone Very Wrong …

House special, or a scary diagnosis?

gonorrhea-hot-spring-shrimp has a host of highly entertaining mistranslations from Chinese into English, most of them involving menus. This one comes from such a list. It is hard to get how a menu item would get an undesirable medical diagnosis as a translation, but as tasty as this food might be, I would personally not be able to overcome the translated title…

Quality Matters

If you are not yet convinced that hiring a proper translation partner, who also specializes in language QA and is familiar with localization implications, I hope these examples demonstrate the importance of making the right decision when it comes to trying to reach global audiences.