If you type ‘mistranslated signs’ into your search engine, you will discover a wealth of – often amusing – examples of safety signs, street signs and other types of signage from around the world that have mistranslated information. Things like instructions and warnings have been rendered into English so poorly that their original meaning is lost. We may smile at health & safety signs that make an inadvertently risqué announcement or warning signs that instruct us to ‘slip carefully’ or to ‘be aware of invisibility’, but English-speaking businesses are equally guilty of mistranslating their signs to the amusement and bewilderment of the people those signs were made for.
Mistranslations are particularly likely to occur when a business tries to save money by hiring someone whose language skills are not suited to the job, or, worse still, by relying on translation software or a dictionary.
While some poor quality translations may prove to be a source of amusement, they are unlikely to do much to enhance the reputation of a business. Moreover, an extremely poor translation suggests that the business simply cannot be bothered to provide the information in that language. For example, it makes very poor business sense for an English-speaking business to fail to provide good quality Welsh language signs in areas that have a high concentration of Welsh speakers.
Of course, the fundamental purpose of displaying signs is to provide information of some kind and so it is important that the sign’s message should be easily understood. In some cases, the sign exists to warn of danger, in which case, an incomprehensible sign is not merely failing to serve its purpose, but could even be a source of danger, if it provides confusing or misleading information. This is particularly the case with road signs, which, if misleading, could result in traffic accidents.
Good quality signs can last for a long time, so it makes sense to get them right the first time, so they can be a source of information and reflect well on your business rather than attracting ridicule. Therefore, it is worth spending money on having them professionally translated, rather than simply resorting to Google Translate.