This Is Why You Should Never Use An Automatic Translation

By Gabriela Garcia Calderon Orbe
In Literary translation
Aug 8th, 2016

Some days ago, I started watching a French movie. It was supposed to be a comedy, but it didn’t make me laugh at all. Instead, I hated the main character whose name is the title of the movie. But as this is not a movie review at all, let’s just leave it here.

What really amazed me was a completely different thing.

This was a subtitled movie with French dialogues. I can read French and understand most of it when it’s spoken, so I tried to catch what the actors said and then compare that to my skills by reading the subtitles very quickly.

What I found out was really surprising.

In one scene, a couple leaves the place and a friend of theirs says something in French. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the Spanish subtitles:
Tú tienes la diversion.

This can be literally translated into English as “you have the fun.” It took me some moments to realize that whoever had been in charge of this… OK, let’s call it a translation, relied on an English human translation and then used an online translator to convert it into Spanish.

My deduction was: the French line wished the couple to have fun, my guess is the English version was “you have fun!”, or something very close to that. The machine made a word-by-word translation and the result was: you=; have=tienes; fun=diversión.

From that point I didn’t pay any more attention to the plot nor the story line. Instead, I started to pay attention to all the lines that made no sense at all in Spanish, translated them mentally into English and, helped with my French skills, got a phrase that made perfect sense.

This went all along the rest of the movie. I went from astonished to amazed to shocked to outraged. It was simply unbelievable.

I’m afraid to say this was a really awful job, the worst I’ve ever came across with, I may say. The distributors or whoever in charge of distributing the movie just trusted in someone for the translation, very confident that the person in charge was an experienced professional, when the truth is this so-called translator was anything but a professional. Another possibility was that the distributors wanted to save some cents and decided to go for an automated translation, and didn’t care at all about some viewers who could think the dialogues were written by Mexican late comedian Cantinflas.

With all due respect and admiration for Cantinflas, of course. And my deepest apologies for comparing him with this gibberish.

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About "" Has 5 Posts

Gabriela Garcia Calderon. I'm a lawyer, translator, proud lefty, short-sighted born in Peru and based in Lima. I live two blocks away from the Pacific Ocean. I am able to read from right to left, as a mirror. I love Limean winter, yes, the winter. I like reading, watching good movies, writing on my blog "Seis de enero" (January 6th) and sharing an ice cream all around the year.

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