Lost in Translation

I read, with some amusement, that the new French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has been forced to provide alternative pronunciations of his surname to Arabic-speaking countries as his surname sounds like their word for a rather intimate male body part!

This is not the first time that I have heard of people having to change their names due to unfortunate translations. Indeed, our Assistant Academic Manager was forced to use his middle name when he lived in Japan upon realising that his first name corresponded to a Japanese translation of “Toilet”! Can you guess what his real name is?

This led me to think about the often derided ‘Chinglish’ – Chinese translations of Mandarin into English – and my own time reading this whilst travelling in China. This,

usually after a couple of beers, became extremely funny to myself and my travelling companions and I have added my own example of the “best” chinglish that I found whilst in the bathroom of a restaurant in Beijing! If you want to see more, just search “chinglish” in Google and a whole host of websites will appear.

What this tells us is that not everything will easily translate, as anyone who is bilingual will tell you. Thus, it is so important to understand the context of a sentence and how it relates to the words around it to ensure a correct estimation can be made for the meaning. One can’t solely rely on a dictionary – a fact that any Spanish waiter could tell a British tourist, no doubt!

I think that by being in a country and dealing with locals in the local language, you get a much better grasp of the more colloquial language that often prevails – thus, helping you to understand the nuances that a dictionary will not tell you. Better still, if taking a course in that country, you can ask your tutor to help you with the definition!

Then, you are further along in your goal to becoming fluent.

How about you? Have there been times that you were “lost in translation”? Perhaps there is a funny translation in your name? Or, there has been a local idiom which you have been unable to understand? Join the discussion and let us know!

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