Monthly Archives: August 2014

The best translation cock-ups of all time!

images  NOT BACARDI…

Part I – advertisements – warning, parental advisory

Yes, we all make mistakes. And we’ll probably make one write now. See what we mean. Easy, isn’t it. Especially when we’re trying to translate into a foreign language. I have a friend who, when in a Spanish butchers, being a squeamish Brit, asked them, or so he thought, to cut the head of the rabbit he wanted to buy. The butcher looked askance, and he then realised he’d asked the butcher to cut his own head off!

This doesn’t matter if no-one knows about it (although they do now), but when you are a major company it’s not just embarrassing it can also hit sales, which is even more embarrassing. So, at the risk of embarrassing all these firms again (unlikely as this is all freely available on the internet), here are some of our all-time favourite cock-ups from the world of translation, from those who ought to have the wherewithal to get it right first time. And if this doesn’t demonstrate the importance of proper, professional translation, then nothing will!

Bacardi, best known for their white rum, really should not have come up with the name ‘Pavian; for a new fruity drink. They thought is was a really chic name, but didn’t realise that in German, ‘Pavian’ means ‘baboon’. Tasty.

Well-known hair products firm, Clairol, produced a new curling iron and called it ‘Mist Stick’.   Again, Germany was their undoing, because the word ‘mist’ in German is slang for manure. Not what you want on your hair…

Then again, if you want to draw attention to a new toothpaste, as Colgate did in France, probably best not to call it after a leading pornography magazine (called Cue, should you wish to investigate).

Purdue chickens (no, we’ve not heard of them either), had a slogan, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken”), which appeared beside a picture of Frank Purdue, who owned the company. In Mexico, this duly appeared translated into Spanish, which read, “It takes a hard man to make a chicken affectionate.”

Don’t make an arse of things is always good advice. So when Sharwoods launched a product range of new “Bundh” sauces, backed by a multi-million pound advertising campaign, they should have first found out that in Punjabi, the nearest colloquial meaning to “bundh” is indeed “arse”.

The next time, trust Global Connects to get it right for you!

More to follow!

Celtic v Maribor: some useful Slovenian phrases

Following our successful promotion of useful phrases for St Johnstone fans travelling to Slovakia, here are some others for Celtic fans, which may be helpful at either the home or away leg. Whilst professionally translated, these are very much tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken too seriously!

“Are all your players eligible for the game?”
»Pa res smejo vsi vaši igralci nastopati?«

“When you visit Scotland for the return match, you want to learn as much as you can about Scottish football so make sure you take in some of the lower league grounds in Glasgow. There is one on the south side of the river Clyde for example.”
»Preden boste prišli na povratno tekmo na Škotsko, se čim bolj pozanimajte o škotskem nogometu, tudi o klubih v nižjih ligah v Glasgowu. Tako ima na primer neki neugleden klub svoj stadion na južni strani reke Clyde.«

“When do the bars open?”
»Kdaj se odprejo gostilne?«

“What does a beer cost?”
»Koliko stane pivo?«

“What’s the Slovenian for ‘get lucky?”
»Kako se v lepi slovenščini reče ‘imeti ogromen krompir’?«
(Translator’s note: This is purely a sporting reference!)

“Can we sit next to our friends in the Green Brigade please?”
»Lahko sedimo zraven naših prijateljev iz Green Brigade, prosim?«

“Where is the airport?”
»Kako pridemo na letališče?«

Is it going to cost you more to get justice in the future?

With the English A Levels out yesterday, today’s papers publish all the usual stories and pictures: smiling, successful pupils jumping ‘spontaneously’ for joy (press photographers have no shame); guides on what to do to get a place via Clearing; advice from celebrities who only got two passes at C; and many more column inches of both entirely useful and sensible advice and equally nonsensical and useless padding from those with a particular political point to make.

However, one thing which many might have overlooked is the continuing decline in language passes. Over the last ten years, the numbers studying what are regarded as popular foreign languages have halved. French has declined by 7% in the last year and by 43% since 2000. In 2014, only 10,400 took a French exam. This is the lowest on record. German language pupils have decreased by more than half over a decade, to the paltry figure of 4,200 this year.

To put this in context, more pupils are studying Ancient Latin and Greek than the language of the most powerful country in Europe!

Although the current UK government says they are addressing this dire situation, by making languages compulsory in Primary Schools, business leaders are not holding back in their criticisms. John Cridland, the head of the CBI, is reported as saying, “Europe remains our largest export market, so to see yet another fall in the languages used on our very doorstep is a blow.   It is important that young people considering their future subject choices are made aware of just how useful studying a foreign language can be for their careers.”


We couldn’t agree more. However, there is more to it than the self-interest of a leading translation company. Basic laws of supply and demand suggest that a shortage of translators/interpreters means a rise in the price for their services. While good news for the translators and interpreters, at a time in which the UK is on a long-haul out of the Great Recession and still spending far more than it earns, increased prices for translation, whilst capable of being absorbed by central government via our taxes, may mean that it becomes more difficult for small charities and other organisations concerned with social justice to afford the help they need with, to take a topical example, refugees fleeing from the carnage in the Middle East just now.   In an uncertain world, it’s likely we’re going to have to take in more disadvantaged peoples, escaping from genuine persecution, and while language/translation is certainly not the kind of sexy subject that dominates the front page headlines (as opposed to ‘spontaneously leaping for joy A Level Students’), it is crucially important that government and society reverses the disastrous trend of the last decade and more. Equally, it’s vital that far, far more of our young people leave school fired with enthusiasm for foreign languages and their importance in today’s globalised world. The demands of social justice and, indeed, our future prosperity will require more people studying language, not fewer.

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

The Glue that binds us, or a Sticky Wicket?

As you will be aware, there is a considerable debate on immigration into Britain at the moment. With a general election coming up, to say nothing of the Scottish referendum, immigration is a subject where all politicians want to do that difficult balancing act that shows they are both principled and in tune with the voters.


So it was interesting to see Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, making what seems, at first glance, to be some decidedly illiberal comments about translation services. Mr Clegg is quoted as saying “I have now told Her Majesty’s Passport Office and the DVLA that I want them to stop subsidising translation services for people applying for passports and driving licences. Obtaining a passport and driver’s license is a privilege and ‘right of passage’ in this country…I think it is only right that someone gaining such rights should be able to speak English to an appropriate standard and I certainly don’t think everyone else should pay for them to use an interpreter or other translation service if they can’t. A common language is the glue that binds a society.”

Ironically, I’d just read a quotation from Jeremy Clarkson on a similar subject, where he recommended, albeit humorously, that in order to save money everyone in Europe should be made to speak and write all documents in English. The glue that binds Mr Clarkson to Mr Clegg is truly a wondrous substance.

Actually, the glue that binds these two is the state of public finances. They are not good. We are still borrowing lots more money than we earn and the deficit has increased rather than decreased, despite the best efforts of those nice people in the Treasury. So what should the translation industry do in these circumstances?

Perhaps, the natural, knee-jerk, reaction is to complain like mad, illustrating our point with tear-jerking stories of staunchly loyal British passport holders who, for perfectly good reasons, can’t speak English very well. However, strange as it may seem, I think that is probably not the right course of action.

We know that what we do is important.   Translation/interpretation services for those who really need it are vital, whether that’s a refugee from Iraq or Gaza or a foreign national arrested and taken to court.   It is slightly harder to argue the case for a driving licence and passport. Especially as the Deputy Prime Minister is not saying that translation services should not be provided, just that they should not be subsidised.

It is a question of where do we draw the (red) lines. Clearly, there is not enough money to pay for everything. Equally clearly, every special interest group – social care, refugees, criminal justice, women’s rights, the disabled, those in poor health who need a doctor – all these and more will make their case.   Unless you believe there is a bottomless pit of money (which I think no-one does), the ‘difficult choices’ beloved of politicians are just that – difficult. We need to be sensible and pragmatic. Yes, there are last ditches which we must defend, but subsidised translation services for passports and driving licences are not them.

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

We need to be more confident in measuring ROI


A recent article* I came across pondered the worth of translation, specifically the ROI (return on investment) for those firms which translate their product information/literature into new languages. It was very good as far as it goes, but in my opinion it suffers from a very common fault for all such articles, namely that for translators, as a species, their expertise in translation and knowledge of world languages tends to be more to the fore than in-depth and penetrating business analysis. This manifests itself in rather vague language and what appears, to my eyes at least, as a similarly opaque call to action for readers to sign up for the writer’s own company’s services.

I don’t want to make too much of this, because, to be honest, it is refreshing to see such a commercially-aware article, but my main beef is that when translation companies try to demonstrate their value to clients by using phrases like “the case for it is pretty solid on the whole”, “the most useful way of approaching the problem may be to consider the opportunity cost of not translating” and “Presumably, higher sales resulted” (all my emphasis), prospective clients are unlikely to feel confident that we, as an industry, are presenting compelling, thorough research.

Upon further investigation though, it’s clear that the research that underpins this article is sound and statistically valid, which makes this weak language even more frustrating. It’s conducted by Common Sense Advisory, an American company. Common Sense Advisory actually wants to sell their research documents to us, but fortunately I have come across a brief précis from Dublin City University’s Language Services Department of this one (

The main points are as follows:

  • Businesses that expanded their translation budgets were 1.5 times more likely than their other Fortune 500 peers to report an increase in total revenue.
  • Roughly three quarters of Fortune 500 companies added new markets either international or domestic multicultural – over the past year.
  • The businesses registering an increase in content volume were 2.5 time more apt to experience a growth in profits from one year to the next. They were also 1.8 times more likely to report revenue growth.
  • The companies that translated information in order to communicate with and retain their partners were 2.67 times more likely to experience revenue increases. They were also 2.6 times more likely to generate improved profits.
  • Fortune 500 companies that translated to keep up with or to gain an edge over their competitors were 2.04 times more likely to have an increase in profits and 1.27 times more likely to generate augmented earnings per share (EPS).

So, what does this all mean? Well, conscious of the need not to fall into the trap of using the vague language that I criticised at the start of this blog, it is quite simple.   Translation, for large companies trading across the world and developing new markets (the Fortune 500 are hardly SMEs), is very important. This importance can be quantified, as shown in the bullet points above: basically, those companies that spend more on translation (and increase their budgets in this area) make more revenue and profit as a consequence.

David Orr, Director, Global Connects