March 12, 2013

Lost in Translation

I have to admit that one of my biggest pet peeves is a poorly translated document.  It makes me cringe!  Being francophone in an English environment, I see a lot of it in my daily life.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the efforts put into trying to reach people in their mother-tongue, but I wish it was always done properly.  I’m the first one to admit that I do make mistakes (in both French and English), but I do check my spelling, grammar and sentence structure and I have someone proofread for me. Being bilingual often means that you question yourself in both languages, and that’s ok, as long as you find the answers to those questions and apply them. 
Otherwise, you just look silly.

The word "dumpling" has been translated to "grandfather".  :P

I have been in a lot of francophone schools and French Immersion classes this year as a substitute teacher, and have noticed a trend in our students.  Google Translate.  They love it!  And they use it for EVERYTHING!  Although Google Translate is a wonderful tool, (and I do use it on occasion) I believe that it is very important to have  a good grasp on the language you are translating to before you use it.  To a student who is just learning to speak, read and write French, Google Translate is not a friend.  I have seen students type an entire essay in English in the left box on the page, to have it translated to French in the right box.  They then copy and paste into a word processing program, print, and hand in.  More often than not, the translation is very difficult to read and can barely be decoded. A website can't understand the nuances to a language. 

I decided to experiment a little to show my daughter (who’s in Grade 8, in a French school) the dangers of relying on a program like Google Translate.  I wrote the lyrics to our national anthem in English and translated to French to see what I would get.  The French translation of the lyrics were nowhere close to what they actually are in the French version of the song.  

I took it one step further and took the French translation of the lyrics and translated them back to English using Google Translate.  Surprise!  The lyrics were not the same as the original song either!

This would be an awesome activity to do with students who tend to use Google Translate (or any other translating website or program) a bit too often.  Using lyrics to songs that they know and love is sure to get the point across! Another great way to prove this point would be to copy their French work (that you suspect has been translated using an online program) into Google Translate and translate it back to English for them.

What translating program do you prefer to use?
How do you help students who get lost in translation?
What is the worse translation you've ever seen?

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  1. Great post.There is a lot to be said for community translations, especially in areas where companies do not deem it necessary to localize for other markets (such as fansubs of Japanese anime etc.) or there simply isn't a company behind a product (open source software anyone?). But if you are running a business and trying to make the most out of the opportunities presnted by globalization, using professional translation services is the only way to go.
    Luckily, I can't see machines taking over the jobs of human translators in the near future, as they have done with so many other professions (remember telephone operators?)

  2. Yes, I agree. Companies should absolutely use professional services. That might be a good future career choice for our bilingual students! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Nice information about translations. Translations is very using in the business fields and jobs fields.I like this.
    KL Translations

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