What happens as a result of a poor translation work

by Laura
(Italy)

Given the huge volume of translation work which takes place in the world it would be naïve to think that translators do not make mistakes. They do. And some translation mistakes have disastrous consequences for translation clients and for the general public.


I haven't heard of any court case in which a translator has been found liable as a result of a substandard translation. However, publications on bad consequences of translation errors are numerous. Just a few examples:

  • In the USA, a Spanish-speaking guy stumbled into his girlfriend's home and collapsed after telling her he was "intoxicado." Paramedics (who didn't speak Spanish) came to rescue the guy. The girlfriend repeated the term "intoxicado" to them. Paramedics took it to mean "intoxicated"; however, the correct meaning was "nauseated." As a result of this misunderstanding the patient received inadequate treatment and became a quadriplegic. The hospital had to pay a $71 million malpractice settlement.

    Source: http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMp058316 (The New England Journal of Medicine)


  • In May 1994, the Commodity News Service informed of the rumors that a Japanese bank was willing to take over Continental Illinois (a large US bank). The Japanese translator mistranslated "rumors" as "disclosure." As a result, creditors and depositors of this bank formed an opinion that the bank was going to collapse. They rushed to the bank to withdraw their money. A USD$2 billion bailout by the Federal Reserve System didn't help to restore confidence in the bank. The Federal Reserve had to take over the bank and spent in total over USD$8 billion to rescue this bank. Thus one small translation error "hit the fan" and had big consequences.

    Source: Andrew Fight, Understanding International Bank Risk, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, pp.34-35

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