Skip to content

Machine Translation Blunders

Literal translation can sometimes have adverse effects when the focus is put on the word and not the meaning.  A word or phrase in one language in one locale, may have an entirely different meaning when translated into another language for a different audience.  This is one of the strongest arguments against the use of machine translation.  Localization is an imperative piece of the translation process and human translators can interpret meaning, but machine translation services cannot.

I recently read a machine translation fails article about an American fast food company that experienced serious and humorous consequences using Google Translate to translate their website from English to Japanese.  Rather than using a professional translator, they trusted Google Translate.  The mistakes that resulted created quite a few laughs and caused the company to take down their Japanese website and redirected customers to their Japanese social media pages.  What a headache and embarrassment they could have saved themselves by simply contacting a translator or translation agency.

Arabic Translation Catastrophes

Machine translation blunders often happen and I have compiled some of my favorite Arabic machine and literal translation fails that I have seen on billboards and in advertisements.

GPI_Translation Fails_2

Six More Famous

The directions on this product label were very poorly translated and not proofread.  This translation makes no sense.

It is clear that the selection of words, the style and the form were translated using machine translation.

The most absurd part is the reference to Saleh and “six more famous” individuals printing the “history.”  What the content intended to say is that the product is valid for six months. The mention of “my uncle,” adds to the complete confusion.

Proper translation of food products is important for the safety of your customers, especially perishable food items. You could potentially make your customers very sick if things like the expiration dates aren’t correctly translated. Customers may be hesitant to purchase your products if they don’t understand your ingredient list due to concerns like food allergies.

Making your products available in global markets is not enough. If you want your customers to trust your products, they need to understand what they are and know you value their business.

Image Credit: Buzz


GPI_Translation Fails_3

Siemens Turkey Washing Machine

This is a washing machine from Siemens with a capacity of 7 kg and is for 1899 QR. This is correctly shown in English and in Arabic.  The confusion occurs over where the machine was made.

If you are an English speaker, it is made in the country of Turkey (تركيا). But, if you are an Arabic speaker, it is made by a turkey (الديك الرومي), like the bird.

Arabic speakers will know this machine was not made by a turkey, but mistakes like this are still costly for your brand. It gives your target audience the impression that you don’t take advertising in their language seriously. If you want to impress your target audience and build respect for your brand, make the commitment to your customers to communicate with them in their language. Don’t leave it up to your customers to interpret what you mean.

Wrong Turn

GPI_Translation Fails_6

In DTP projects we mirror layouts to run from right to left when working with Arabic languages, but this is not applicable for street signs. English turn right…. Arabic turn left, I don’t think so!

This type of translation mistake could have more serious consequences, someone could get hurt or lost. Formatting mistakes like this can easily happen with machine translation. All the MT technology will handle is to change the layout from left to right to right to left when translating from English to Arabic.

Professional translators would recognize this as a traffic sign and would not make that translation mistake.

Image Credit: D1G

GPI_Translation Fails_8

Paul is Dead

This alarming buffet sign was at Erbil International Hotel in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

The dish was meatballs, but there is no word for meatballs in Arabic, so it is transcribed in Arabic letters as ميت بول. Someone must have thought this was an original Arabic recipe and decided to literally translate the word into English.  Below is the result of entering the Arabic letters into Google Translate.

GPI_Translation Fails_9

Image Credit: Language Log


Machine translation and literal translation can lead to serious mistakes. If you want your message to be communicated correctly and clearly and your product or service to be appropriately advertised globally, you should rely on a professional translation and localization company.  It will save you considerable time and embarrassment to do your translation project correctly the first time.  You want to communicate with your audience, not leave them guessing.

Resources on Language Translation Services
Globalization Partners International (GPI) has provided extensive language translation services including document translation, website translation and software translation. GPI has developed a user-friendly translation portal that makes it extremely easy for non-technical users in these industries to submit projects for translation.

You may find the links below to some of our blogs on translation and tools useful: