Facebook translation faux pas


Facebook made the news in Germany recently due to a seemingly low quality translation which caused its users some distress.

An email popped up in Facebook users’ accounts, asking them to participate in a survey. The subject of the email caused some consternation, as a result of word choice. The English word “reminder” was translated as “Mahnung” rather than the more suitable “Erinnerung”.

As the German word “Mahnung” carries with it more the sense of “warning” than “reminder”, the recipients of the e-mails thought they were the victims of an email scam or virus rather than being reminded to participate in a survey – the actual intention of the e-mail.

As we’ve discussed on The Language Factory blog before: culture, forms of address and idioms all need to be considered to achieve high quality translations. For us, translators must have a native level understanding of the language, as well as having a translation qualification and experience in their chosen field. They usually also need to know the intended audience of the translation in case any technical language is required.

Some services which offer less than a native level of understanding, provide translations which are ‘just ok’ and do make sense. However, this doesn’t mean they will be well received by their target audience. As was the case for Facebook, the translation can fail to take into account the native understanding of the word, rather than just the literal meaning.

This is a basic mistake that we’d hope any German translator worth their salt would pick up on. The consensus is that Facebook chose machine translation services for this email, as the first suggestion offered by Google Translate for the word “reminder” is “Mahnung” so it’s likely this is how the error came about.

If this is the case, it’s a great example of how machine translation services are still far behind that of human translation services in terms of quality and accuracy!

Here at The Language Factory we pride ourselves on the quality work our translators produce. If you have a project coming up why not get in touch and see if we can help? Email your project details to enquiries@thelanguagefactory.co.uk.


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