If someone speaks two foreign languages, this does not mean that they can also translate. This activity involves many prior hours of study and exercise in order to develop competences in this area of activity.
The world of translations offers countless examples of incompetence that resulted in various social, political or economic problems.
One of the most well-known cases happened in 1980 when an 18-year old, William Ramirez, was in a coma in a hospital in Florida. His friends and family tried to explain to the doctors about Ramirez’s situation, but the doctors did not understand Spanish. One member of the team of doctors was bilingual and translated intoxicado with drunk although the correct translation is either poisoned or suffering from food intoxication. His family thought he had suffered food intoxication. In fact, he had had an intracerebral hemorrhage, but the doctors treated him for alcohol or drug abuse. Because his treatment came too late, Ramirez remained quadriplegic and received 71 million dollars compensation.
Another incident that made history happened in 1977 when the translation of the speech of the American President Jimmy Carter who was visiting Poland contained two translation mistakes: when I abandoned the USA instead of when I left the USA, and hunger for the future instead of desires for the future. The media in both countries evidently gladly jumped at the opportunity to ridicule the mistranslations.
In 2009, the bank HSBC had to spend 10 million dollars on an advertising campaign to mend the damage caused by the mistranslation in several countries of their slogan Assume nothing! with Sit and do nothing!.
Saint Jerome’s translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Latin contains a famous mistake. When Moses was descending from the Mount Sinai, his head radiated light (Karan). Instead, Saint Jerome saw Keren meaning with horns, which in turn explains a series of sculptures and paintings presenting Moses wearing horns.
In the video game Street Fighter II, one of the characters says “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!”. When translated from English to Japanese, Rising Dragon was translated with Sheng Long, the translator thinking this was another character in the game. The fans of the game kept trying to find out who Sheng Long was and how they could defeat him. In 1992, on April Fools’ Day, Electronic Gaming Monthly published some elaborate and difficult to follow instructions about how to find Sheng Long. They did not say it was a hoax until December, after the fans had spent countless hours searching for Sheng Long.
It is therefore compulsory to employ professional translators in order to avoid similar situations.