Tattoo Translations – If You Dare! - Part 2

By Stacey
Jul 28, 2016 · 3 min

Chinese characters aren’t the only ones to provide tattoo translation hilarity, because Arabic is just perfect for these blunders as well.

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Chinese characters aren’t the only ones to provide tattoo translation hilarity because Arabic is just perfect for these blunders as well. Have a look at this example –

  • The Large Mother’! We’ll have to assume that the person wearing this tattoo wanted it to say ‘Big Momma’, but idiomatic expressions don’t translate well in any language unrelated to the source.

Another issue with Arabic tattoos is that the font is not usually decided by a calligrapher, like traditional handwritten Arabic – it’s decided by a computer, which results in boring tattoo fonts.

Major Problems with Tattoo Translations

The tattooist’s poor understanding of the English language is probably the major issue with tattoos in foreign languages. Another issue that arises is when the person getting the tattoo uses computer-translated text as the source. We know that computer-aided translation can’t compete with a qualified translator because it’s still in its early days; however, people think it’s reliable because it is becoming a convenient way of translating text. But of course, we know otherwise!    

And then there’s the issue of validation, or perhaps we should say lack of validation. If only people would have their tattoo checked by someone who actually knows and understands the target language – it could well save another tattoo translation blunder. But, few people bother: they know what they want and they go with their instincts, then spend a lifetime regretting it.

Tattooing the Right Way

No-one chooses to be the laughing stock of everyone who knows what you’ve really had tattooed on your body, so why not do it the right way –

  • If you’ve chosen to have an English word or phrase translated into a foreign language, then you need to take that phrase or word and speak with someone who both speaks and reads that language.
  • Perhaps you’ve seen a piece of text or a foreign language tattoo that you’d love to have on your own body. So take a photograph of it and run it by someone who both speaks and reads that language.
  • Ask that person to clearly state both what it means and what its connotations are in that language. You’ll often be quite surprised by the difference between what a phrase or word actually means compared with what you thought it meant, and this is because cultural differences can be so wide.
  • If you don’t have someone to approach who speaks the language, our advice is that you contact a translation agency that works in that language. They’re not going to charge a lot of money for a tattoo translation, but the money you spend here will be worth every cent, knowing that this tattoo is intended to stay on your body for life.
  • Never, ever take a machine-translated text at face value. It’s imperative that you have it verified by a professional translator.
  • Don’t copy a tattoo unless you’re positive that you know what it means. Just because you appreciate someone else’s tattoo doesn’t mean it would be right for you: it could well be that person’s Chinese Zodiac, which would mean nothing to you.
  • If you’re determined to get a permanent tattoo on your body, please don’t make a final decision unless and until you know exactly what you’re getting, and what the tattoo actually means. Why not consider a temporary tattoo? Then, if you change your mind, there’s no harm done. Having something that lasts a short while would certainly be a wiser decision than having to tolerate a tattoo that you wish you’d never laid eyes on.

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The translation industry is a relatively small one but it’s also a highly competitive one. Basically, do your research on a translation agency prior to making initial contact and it will certainly pay off; perhaps not immediately because there may not be any work available at the time, so just be patient. Your application must stand out above the rest, and by following these simple steps you should have no problem whatsoever in achieving your translation goals.