You might think translation errors only occur on an international level, but these kind of mistakes are made on local scale as well. Many a time this is down to trusting free online translation tools or going for the cheapest translation service you can find. Recently, Leicester police were forced to apologise to local Punjabi speakers for the translation used on a Diwali safety leaflet due to it being incomprehensible.
According to an article on the website of the Leicester Mercury, Leicester police have been embarrassed by the translation mistake. Leicester fire service, City Council and Crimestoppers had joined forces to publish a greeting card with safety tips for Diwali, i.e. the festival of lights.
The Gujarati and Hindi translations were correct, the Leicester Mercury says, but Punjabi speakers described the translation in their native language as “incomprehensible” as a number of sentences were grammatically incorrect and made no sense at all.
As 12,000 greeting cards were issued, the newspaper is not surprised that the police received a lot of complaints.
The idea behind the greeting card is very good, member of the Panjabi Arts, Cultural and Literary Council UK, Prof Dhillon, says. However, he believes the execution of the plan would have benefited from a little more effort. According to Dhillon, many Punjabi speakers have expressed their confusion to him and he believes the translation must have been executed in a great rush.
The Leicester Mercury states that a spokeswoman for the police also agreed that the quality of the Punjabi translation was very low.
She said that all translations were carried out by an external translation company that charged £42 for each text. Further distribution of the text has been put to a halt; however, according to the spokeswoman, most greeting cards have already been issued. She apologised to the Punjabi speakers and said the police will turn to the translation company to deal with the problem.
This was the first year that the Leicester police issued leaflets in foreign languages and according to the spokeswoman, the decision was made in order to make the information more widely accessible. For the Punjabi speakers, this unfortunately has not been the case…
:: This example shows that a cheap translation is not necessarily the best one. Have a read of “Can you afford a Cheap Translation?“
The news also highlights the importance of proofreading in the translation process, especially when a translation is going to be used in the public sphere. Had a Punjabi speaker checked the document prior to it being published, the mistake would have been identified and fixed – saving the police red faces and money.