31 Dec 2013

Translation in 2013: Our Most-Read Stories

A major Coca-Cola translation blunder, the history of swearing and a lad who learnt 22 languages in a matter of weeks – it’s been a big year for translation news.

Here we take a look at the translation stories that caught your attention in 2013.

Seen something else that you like? Tell us in the comments section below…

Top translation blunders

Translation projects are not without their pitfalls – whether it’s a major brand undertaking a global marketing campaign or a start-up expanding internationally for the first time.

One of our most-read stories was the case of Coca-Cola forced to cancel an advertising campaign in Canada after it accidentally insulted a couple enjoying a meal out at a restaurant.

As our post explains, Blake Loates, together with her husband, were dining out in Edmonton when they opened a bottle of Vitaminwater – owned by Coca-Cola – only to find the words ‘You Retard’ printed on the inside of the bottle’s top.

It wasn’t a prankster at the bottling plant but down to a Coca-Cola advertising campaign in the country that combined randomly generated English and French words. The problem was that the words for each language were approved separately. Whoops…

A restaurant in Poland inadvertently offered a rather unique dish – cervical cancer – to customers thanks to a translation mix-up. A British holiday-maker on a trip to the country was horrified to find that one of the dishes on his menu was described as ‘cervical cancer served on beetroot carpaccio with mustard honey dip’.

This unfortunate error was actually down to a human translator, highlighting the importance of professional translation services.

Far and away our favourite blunder was a Welsh road sign that, for some reason, displayed an out-of-office message. Government officials sent the phrase ‘No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only’ to Swansea Council for translation into Welsh, but the response they received was Welsh for ‘I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated”.

“When they’re proofing signs, they should really use someone who speaks Welsh,” said journalist Dylan Iorwerth. Quite…

While some translation blunders are funny, many are not, as our round-up highlights. Getting it wrong can offend people, leading to reputational damage. Professionally qualified translators and extensive proof-reading are an important part of the translation process. Take a look at our top five marketing translation mistakes.

Best research and feature pieces

The field of translation is one rich with research and debate. Our post on two of the English language’s most popular swear words was a popular one, as mediaeval literature expert Melissa Mohr argued that the use of cursing can be traced back to Roman times. Read on for a short history of f**k and s**t.

Elsewhere, we explored the differences between standard English and non-standard English dialects and launched a debate on the notorious Oxford comma. When do you need to use it, and when should you leave it out?

Proof, if it were needed, that speaking more than one language can bring a number of benefits came when some important research this year suggested that bilingualism can delay the effects of dementia. Researchers even argued that bilingualism might have a stronger influence on dementia than any currently available drug.

And if you’re feeling philosophical as we approach the New Year, why not read our post on whether language can affect our view of the world. Drawing on the work of Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, this piece explores whether all languages have a universal grammar underpinning them, or whether they are more fluid than that and have a role to play in how we think about the world.

Best listicles

Everyone loves a list, and here at Translate Media we’re not afraid to jump aboard the ‘listicle’ train.

We’d been watching a few sci-fi films and we got thinking about the number of constructed languages there are in films and TV shows. So we put together the top five fictional languages in popular culture.

From Huttese spoken in Star Wars to Klingon in Star Trek, films and TV shows are alive with constructed language. The question is: do you agree with our top five?

Anyone involved in translation will be aware of the number of language learning apps that are available on the market. Some are brilliant, some are terrible, so we thought it’s be an idea to round-up what we consider to be the best ones out there. If you’re thinking of learning a new language, here are three apps we reckon will really work. Oh, and check out our recent blog on how cats could help you learn Spanish


We finish with the kid who learnt 22 languages in a just a couple of weeks. We kid you not. And he’s only 17. New Yorker Timothy Dorner managed to teach himself widely spoken languages including French, Spanish and Italian, but what’s also impressive is that he learnt some lesser-known ones like Xhosa (South Africa) and Wolof (Gambia) too.

Have you seen an interesting translation story that we’ve not mentioned here? Let us know.

Happy New Year!


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