Translation Errors Can Be Dangerous - Part 1

Some of our readers may recall a story back in 2004 when four people died in hospital in France from a massive radiation overdose.

Some of our readers may recall a story back in 2004 when four people died in hospital in France from a massive radiation overdose. They didn’t die due to equipment malfunction or even a wrong diagnosis: sadly, they died because of a translation misunderstanding. The software that calculated the correct dosage came with an instruction manual, and this manual was in written in English, but instead of using a professional translator to determine the right dosage the so-called ‘multilingual’ nursing staff at the hospital took it upon themselves to work it out themselves. The result was shocking and catastrophic - and completely unnecessary! One wonders if the hospital’s reputation has ever been restored after that fiasco.

The Cost of Poor Quality Translations

COPQ stands for ‘Cost of Poor Quality’, and poor quality is generally a measure of money lost by a company. It’s been calculated that the average COPQ for any business is a minimum of 25% of their operating cost; there are some cases where this figure rises to 40%, whilst in extreme cases, it can result in bankruptcy and the subsequent liquidation of a business. The service or product itself causes the majority of this poor quality, but there are many businesses who are negatively affected by poor translations.

Another Example of Mistranslation

In the year 2009, a courtesy translation of English rules was sent by the World Baseball Classic organizers to the Cuban team. It was stated in the abstract that a reliever’s pitch limit to play the following day was 30 pitches. Unfortunately, the translation altered ‘30 or more’ to ‘more than 30’. The Cuban team manager withdrew two relievers on the day prior to the game against Mexico after they had pitched 30 balls against the Japanese team – this was to reserve them for the important game the following day. Just hours prior to the game against Mexico, the manager was informed that these two relievers could not pitch that day. Luckily, the game was won by Cuba 7 - 4 and it was decided not to contest the decision. Obviously, this was not a life-threatening issue, but it does show what the cost of a poor translation can be and how critical accurate translations are.

Translation and Cultural Differences

A professional translator is fully aware of cultural differences and takes these into account when translating documents; because it’s not only words that a translator is dealing with. A wrongly translated document can be highly offensive in some cultures.

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