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Translation Mistakes Can Be Costly

There’s something that I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while now but refrained from doing so because I didn’t want to sound bitter. We hardly receive well other people’s picking on our translation mistakes. Everyone involved in translation business is doing their job with the best intentions and as a freelance English Turkish translator and a Chartered Linguist, I don’t want to sound like smearing dirt on anyone’s hard work.

If rushed, translation mistakes can be inevitable

But what needs to be said needs to be said: throughout the business world, we don’t pay attention to translation quality. Or at least, we prioritise other aspects of translation: such as delivery time (faster, faster…) or cost (cheaper, cheaper… online translators do it for free)! And often times, translation mistakes are the price to pay and the result can be ridiculous. Allow me to demonstrate with a real-world example.

About 5-6 years ago, a certain Iranian-Turkish man, once praised for his contributions to Turkey’s economy by none other than the Country’s prime minister and ministers, turned out to be, well, an international criminal dwindling USA’s banking system and circumventing the US embargo on Iran, costing the US millions of dollars. Needless to say, he was arrested on his first visit to the US and put on trial. He sang everything. He even used a huge white board to explain intricate dealings involved in his elaborate shuffle of gold and currencies and whatnot. And even then it was near impossible to understand for us the laymen. I’m deliberately refraining from calling his name here. Because honestly I have zero political intentions. I’m just here to make a linguistic point.

Make that linguistic point already 🙂

So anyway, this gentleman and his trial in the US was widely covered on Turkey’s national media, purely in form of bad, or let’s just say “rushed” Turkish translations of English newspaper clippings. And one word kept coming up: “uçuş riski” (flight risk, risk of flying). That didn’t make sense. Yet every single newspaper and online news website kept referring to this notorious international criminal as “uçuş riski”.

Translation Mistakes Haluk Aka English Turkish Translator
Screenshot from an online news website

Then all the sudden it hit me. As an English speaker you must have already guessed but it is less apparent to Turkish speakers: the word “flight” has multiple meanings and according to Merriam Webster, one of them -and the most popular one, is “an act or instance of passing through the air by the use of wings”. As in “all flights were cancelled” or “my flight is at 9 am” etc. Turkish translation of flight in that sense would be “uçuş”.

It all makes sense now

However, the word also means “an act or instance of running away, fleeing”… The man was a flight risk in this sense, as in “he will likely run away or flee”. What happened was, junior translators of news agencies of Turkey saw the term “flight risk”. They scratched their heads for a sec, and thought “uh, screw it, whatever that means…”, and quickly mistranslated. So many news articles to translate, so little time…

So you see, it was supposed to be “kaçış riskiin Turkish because flee is “kaçmak” and flight in that sense is “kaçış”. This particular translation mistake didn’t cause any major problem other than confusing thousands of Turkish readers and triggering my OCD. Nevertheless, if anything similar happened in a translation of a legal document or heavens forbid in an English Turkish certified translation the damage would have been irreparable.

Do you have any translation mistakes you’d like to share with us? Please do so in comments section.