Translation tends to sound easier than it is. People often think that it’s just a matter of replacing each source word with the corresponding translated word, and then you’re done.
Unfortunately, translation is much more complicated than that. There can be multiple ways — sometimes dozens — of saying the same thing in another language. Add to that things like syntax, grammar, colloquialisms, and any other number of examples of linguistic nuance, and the potential for mistakes is huge.
But that also means that the potential for comedy is huge. There are endless examples of funny mistranslations throughout the world and, unsurprisingly, the internet is a great place to find them. Here are the funniest examples — some fictional, but most not — of translation gone wrong.
1) Translators Are a Waste of Space
This clever video gives translators the evaluation they deserve…but with a twist ending! The video was written and performed by Erik Skuggevik for The Norwegian Association of Literary Translators and produced by Iver Grimstad.
2) The Offensive Translator
A CEO desperately needs to find someone who knows how to speak seven languages in this ridiculous video. The person he finds (Dr. Who‘s Catherine Tate) is, shall we say, less than qualified. This should technically be called “The Offensive Interpreter,” but when a video is this funny, why nitpick?
3) Funniest Translator
Another funny video in the vein of “The Offensive Translator.” Although the video is titled “Funniest Translator,” it actually features body language and sign language interpreting. But either way, it’s hilarious.
4) When Words are Misunderstood
This short but sweet German Coast Guard parody perfectly illustrates how important a single misunderstood word can be.
5) Words Matter
A while back, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton gave Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, a gift representing a “resetting” of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. But instead of saying “reset” in Russian as was intended, the translation on the gift said “overcharge” in Russian. Needless to say, it was a bit embarrassing for the U.S. government.
6) When Signs Go “Bad”
In China, there is a restaurant called “Translate server error”. The owner attempted to translate the Chinese word for restaurant into English but the machine translation produced an error. Not knowing the difference, the restaurant printed the error out in English and used it for their sign.
7) Various Other Signs
People in other countries sometimes go out of their way to communicate with their English-speaking tourists. Unfortunately, the message doesn’t always get communicated as planned. Here is a list of mistranslated signs seen around the world. As you can see, there is no shortage of them.
- Cocktail lounge, Norway: “Ladies are Requested Not to have Children in the Bar”
- At a Budapest zoo: “PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty”
- Hotel in Acapulco: “The Manager has Personally Passed All the Water Served Here”
- Car rental brochure, Tokyo: “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.”
- On an Athi River highway: “TAKE NOTICE: When this sign is under water, this road is impassable.”
- Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations: “Guests are requested NOT to smoke or do other disgusting behaviors in bed.”
- In an East African newspaper: “A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.”
- Hotel lobby, Bucharest: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.:
- In Nairobi restaurant: “Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.”
- In a New Zealand restaurant: “Open seven days a week, and weekends too.”
- Restaurant window: “Don’t stand there and be hungry. Come on in and get fed up.”
- On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.”
- Hotel elevator, Paris: “Please leave your values at the front desk.”
- A menu in Vienna: “Fried milk, children sandwiches, roast cattle and boiled sheep.”
- Hotel in Japan: “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.”
- At a Korean restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand: “We do not re-use the food.”
- Supermarket, Hong Kong: “For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.”
- Outside Paris dress shop: “Dresses for street walking.”
- In a Rhodes tailor shop: “Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.”
- A sign on a car in Manila, Philippines: “Car and owner for sale.”
- Hotel in Zurich: “Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, is it suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.”
- Airline ticket office, Copenhagen: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”
- War museum on the River Kwai, Thailand: “The Museum is building now — sorry for the visitor”
- Outside of Hong Kong: “Ladies may have a fit upstairs.”
- In a Bangkok dry cleaner’s: “Drop your trousers here for best results.”
- In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist: “Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.”
- Doctor’s office, Rome: “Specialists in women and other diseases.”
- Instructions for a soap bubble gun: “While solution is not toxic it will not make child edible.”
- In an Italian cemetery: “Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.”
- Detour sign in Kyushu, Japan: “Stop: Drive Sideways.”
- Sign at Mexican disco: “Members and non-members only.”
- A sign posted in Germany’s Black Forest: “It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose.”
- Japanese hotel room: “Please to bathe inside the tub.”
- On a South African building: “Mental health prevention centre.”
- From Soviet Weekly: “There will be a Moscow Exhibition of Arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.”
- Instructions on a Korean flight: “Upon arrival at Kimpo and Kimahie Airport, please wear your clothes.”
- Aeroflot advert: “Introducing wide boiled aircraft for your comfort.”
- Belgrade hotel elevator: “To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.”
- Athens hotel: “Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily.”
Those are some of our favorites. Have you seen any funny examples of translation gone wrong in your travels? Let us know!
Want to make sure your translation doesn’t end up on one of these lists? Check out our free ebook to learn how you can spot a good translation service. Get it now!