translation error phenomenon and the phenomenon behind

received this advertisement pamphlet by singtel selling 3G services in view of the impending 2G termination:

as a CL teacher, the choice of term in the blue bubble immediately caught my eyes – “赶忙”. in the same moment, i hypothesised it’s #ThankUGoogleTranslate problem. indeed, a quick check on Hurry, the term used in the EL bubble, yielded 赶忙 as the 3rd translation. anything in the top 3 must be good right? (:

posted the photo on fb, and we observed different reactions, with mostly sympathy of the error’s occurrence.

while such occurrence of error is not a first, nor will it be the last, i think we should look beyond the phenomenon itself, and ask WHY it occurs at all. the reasons could be many.

as a CL teacher (educator), my immediate question is how did these grown-ups learn CL when they were in schools? Were they taught to become a lifelong learner of CL, or were they taught to inherit the language (contents) from the teachers? to become a lifelong learner, it means that one is able to learn and to use the language when my teacher-guru is no longer around me. but, the over-reliance on Google Translate (or some other online translation tools) appears to suggest otherwise. it appears to me that these grown-ups are using Google Translate in place of the trust-me-all-guru who is no longer around. in short, they lack the know-how of learning the language in life beyond schools (and exams).

in terms of know-how, if a Science teacher is to teach students to think like a real-world scientist, what is a CL teacher teaching his/her students to think like? a writer, a poet, a linguist, or an exam-Acer/passer? the outcome goal is critical; with only the outcome goal clearly set can a teacher possibly design his/her lessons to enable students to learn to being and becoming the goal.

if you are a CL teacher reading this, what is your goal? what are you already doing to enable your students to learn, and to use the language lifelong? the transmission of large amount of knowledge has probably proven to be futile as the singtel pamphlet has revealed.

a translation lesson courtesy of IKEA Singapore

language is dynamic. so very often meaning and use could be localised. whether a translator is aware and appreciates this will show through when s/he is required to perform language translation. this advertisement by IKEA found in Lianhe Zaobao on 7th March 2014 is an excellent piece of teaching/learning resource for a translation lesson:

2014-03-07 19.58.40

from the 2 GLARING translation errors here, we can be almost 100% sure the advertisement originates from an English version. let’s look at them:

1. 春鸡

an apparent direct word-for-word translation from Spring Chicken. so the first question that comes to mind, “Does IKEA sell chickens from different seasons 夏鸡、秋鸡、冬鸡? Or IKEA only sells chicken born during spring season in today’s context?” Spring chicken as we know refers to young non-grown up chicken. the erroneous translation obviously lacks appreciation of this. in the local Singapore context, spring chicken is called 童子鸡, which will cause no one to mistake it from a fully grown-up adult chicken. on to a deeper meaning of the words 春 and 鸡 that’s used here. 鸡 is often used in casual context to refer to 妓 (prostitute) due to the nearness in pronunciation. when 春 is seen with 鸡, mental association of 春 with 叫春 occurs. 叫春 refers to animals emitting sounds when they are looking for mates. so it begs the question “what is IKEA selling again!?!” “Adults and children should avoid such a place at all cost, for obvious reasons.” this is definitely a direct opposition to the original intention of an advertisement, not to mention the harm it’s doing to the advertiser’s image :O

2. 双方宜家餐厅 (双方 IKEA restaurant)
it’s been quite a while since we went to IKEA, a year at least? and we din know that IKEA has named its restaurant 双方,meaning ‘Both Side’. “huh!?! what sides? which sides? who and who’s involved?” one will immediately ask when seeing this. without seeing the original English version, the best guess here is 双方 refers to BOTH (cos IKEA has 2 outlets here). this translation once again demonstrates ZERO appreciation of the meanings of the original text. a translation that demonstrates appreciation for meaning, and language use would be 任何一家。 the whole sentence will read 可在任何一家宜家餐厅购买,售完为止。 a side point, the original translation 卖完 is so CRUDE;即止 or 为止 there’s no right or wrong here, but more Singaporeans (from the local 3.31 million population) use the latter more often.

(acknowledgement: Lianhe Zaobao for the print; IKEA for funding the advertisement for educational purposes)

updated 22:34hr

it’s interesting to note that mainland Chinese’s day-to-day term is also 童子鸡。 in this report, the expert is trying to explain to the Chinese why the English term is ‘spring chicken’, and the literal translation is 春+鸡。however, it’s easy for one to be lost in this explanation and mistook the Chinese expert to mean spring chicken = 春鸡, when it is not!!! Google Translate for one is mistaken, and propagating such a mistake :O

URL: 北京推出中国菜官方英译名 童子鸡译为’春鸡’

Google Translate screen capture:
140308-google translate spring chicken

it is good for one to note that Google’s business is NOT in mainland China as of now. maybe that’s part of the reasons for such problems? (:

Perapera-kun: Chinese Popup Translator and Learning Tool

in his answer to a query concerning learning of CL at the recent REACH forum, PM Lee mentioned two translation tools that can be useful. one is google translate (which i guess i need not mention), and the other is perapera-kun, which works as a firefox add-on. the translations are based on the open source Chinese-English dictionary, CC-CEDICT. i have downloaded, installed and tried it myself, am impressed by the capability of the ability to recognise word and phrase (字词分辨). there are still room for improvements for some translations but as of what it is now, it definitely minimise the need for one to switch to another dictionary software, or to flip a physical desktop dictionary. of cos, learners might start complaining the ‘confusion’ caused by too many definitions given at one glance, but isn’t this a problem of most dictionaries all along? advancement of technologies will one day help us resolve this issue i believe (:

and in case you’ll like to hear PM’s words: