by Cameroon Trum
The ability to speak another language isn't the same as being able to translate that language into another. Take, for example, the translation errors that occurred during President Jimmy Carter's visit to Poland in 1977. The translator hired by the U.S. State Department knew Polish, but he had no experience translating in that language. Through his interpreter, Carter unintentionally ended up making several hilarious translation mistakes. Most notable was his statement "your desires for the future," which the interpreter translated as "your lusts for the future."
Poor translations can also have tragic consequences, like the 1980 case of 18-year-old Willie Ramirez, who was brought to a Florida hospital in a comatose state. Ramirez's family told the hospital's translator that he was "intoxicado," which meant "poisoned" in the context of their explanation. However, the translator told the doctors that Ramirez was "intoxicated," leading doctors to treat his condition as a drug overdose. The delay in proper treatment resulted in Ramirez becoming a quadriplegic. While he won a $71 million settlement from the hospital, no amount of money can ever restore Ramirez's ability to use his arms and legs.
As you can see, even a minor mistake in translation can lead to all sorts of havoc. Check out the infographic below for more examples of historical misunderstandings caused by poor translations.
Infographic by Lighthouse Translations
Writing systems | Language and languages | Language learning | Pronunciation | Learning vocabulary | Language acquisition | Motivation and reasons to learn languages | Arabic | Basque | Celtic languages | Chinese | English | Esperanto | French | German | Greek | Hebrew | Indonesian | Italian | Japanese | Korean | Latin | Portuguese | Russian | Sign Languages | Spanish | Swedish | Other languages | Minority and endangered languages | Constructed languages (conlangs) | Reviews of language courses and books | Language learning apps | Teaching languages | Languages and careers | Being and becoming bilingual | Language and culture | Language development and disorders | Translation and interpreting | Multilingual websites, databases and coding | History | Travel | Food | Other topics | Spoof articles | How to submit an article
Why not share this page:
Learn languages for free on Duolingo
If you like this site and find it useful, you can support it by making a donation via PayPal or Patreon, or by contributing in other ways. Omniglot is how I make my living.
Note: all links on this site to Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.fr are affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you click on any of them and buy something. So by clicking on these links you can help to support this site.