French/Spanish to English translation

11 January 2013

Mistranslating at the EU

In the EU, there are currently 23 official languages spoken by the member states. Each of these languages must be translated to 22 others, altogether making 506 possible permutations of French to English Translation, English to French Translation or Hungarian to Maltese.

To cater for this multi-multi-lingual need, more than 700 employees are required to translate official documents, agendas, draft reports, minutes, and questions. And then there’s interpreting, which is another matter altogether, requiring some 1,000 interpreters for a plenary session.

When it comes to actually translating for a politician, surprisingly, it is not as difficult as one might expect. Because a political speech is quite formal, and when there are fewer colloquialisms to decipher, it can be very easy. The only hurdle is the highly technical language and subtle ambiguity that must be maintained.

Sometimes with a speech, it is best to open with a joke. However, in the EU, you may find a few crickets chirping if you use a pun or language-local proverb/reference.  Trada, Brisbane translation services have come up with a not-so-great joke to illustrate:

Two men are aboard a navy ship. One opens a bag of grain and both of them peer in. Inside they see a couple of weevils.

'You see those weevils?'

'I do.'

'Which would you choose?'

'Which would I choose?’


‘Oh I don’t know; they look just the same.’

'But suppose you had to choose?'

'Well, then I suppose I would choose the right-hand weevil; it’s bigger and is clearly the superior creature.’

'Well, sir, you are wrong. Don’t you know that in the Navy you must always choose the lesser of two weevils?’

A joke such as this works in English, but the pun is lost when it is translated to another language, because the word for weevil could be so different from ‘two evils’ in German or French or any other language.

Proverbs and literary and religious allusions can also be nightmarish. There are a number of small but real mistakes that happen in this position. One mistake that was sure to offend some of the more sensitive politicians (which is all of them), a translator pronounced the ‘deprived communities’ of Wales as the ‘depraved communities’.


What is translation?

Translation is the process of changing the text from one language to another whilst conveying the same meaning as demonstrated in the source text...


How long does it take to translate a document?

Although dependent on the field and complexity of the translation, generally speaking, personal documents can be translated within 2-3 business days. Larger jobs will vary...


Why should I have my documents translated professionally?

Professional translation differs greatly from machine translation (i.e. Google Translate, Babylon, etc). A professional translator ensures that the translation reads naturally and not like a translation. Accredited through NAATI...


How to choose a translator?

a. Check their qualifications - and/or request information about their experience. Translators should only accept assignments for which they are competent and as a client, you should expect...