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(The New York Times)   Translation mishaps between Afghans and westerners would be hilarious if they weren't so tragically infuriating   (atwar.blogs.nytimes.com) divider line 40
    More: Sad, Afghans  
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8058 clicks; posted to Main » on 06 Dec 2012 at 10:02 AM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-12-06 10:04:30 AM
Is the NY Times the new Reader's Digest?
 
2012-12-06 10:04:59 AM
My hovercraft is full of IED's :(
 
2012-12-06 10:06:57 AM
They should try talking louder and slower. That always helps.
 
2012-12-06 10:10:48 AM
Just like in Three's Company.
 
2012-12-06 10:13:54 AM

cgraves67: They should try talking louder and slower. That always helps.


What DOES help in situations like this is trying to say the same thing again in a DIFFERENT way whenever you think the person you are talking to might not have understood what you meant. So in the second example ("Not on the agenda!"), the American should have tried saying things like "computer network" or just "computers" instead of saying "system" over and over.

Though to be fair, he did say "new computer system" the second time. Still, there are ways it could have been handled better.
 
2012-12-06 10:15:28 AM

cgraves67: They should try talking louder and slower. That always helps.


Here's a tip for people struggling to be understood: Don't rephrase things. Dealing with kids in a foreign language can be easier, because when they are misunderstood, they tend to repeat exactly the same words, more clearly. Adults try to be "helpful", and you never know if they are moving on to another concept or not.

Kid: I want a drink.
Me: You want.... to go somewhere?
Kid: (Point at his mouth) I want a DRINK
Me: You want to eat something? Drink something?
Kid: I want a drrriiiiiinkkk
Me: You want a drink!

vs

Adult: I want a drink.
Me: You want to go somewhere?
Adult: No, I'm thirsty, I'd like a soda.
Me: Uh you are upset about something, you want what now?
Adult: Sigh, let's go to a bar.
Me: You wanted to go somewhere?
 
2012-12-06 10:15:39 AM

Goatwhore: Is the NY Times the new Reader's Digest?


Apparently so.
And done in one.
 
2012-12-06 10:16:16 AM

ciberido: What DOES help in situations like this is trying to say the same thing again in a DIFFERENT way whenever you think the person you are talking to might not have understood what you meant.


That was a critical two minutes it took me to type that out.
 
2012-12-06 10:18:12 AM
"Interpreter's translation: "Yeah, your sister. You have beautiful sister."

The Afghan, roaring: "You better stop talking about my sister!" The interpreter kept the miscommunication going, again telling the American that the official had said "system.""


The guy in this story is lucky that the interpreter didn't say "goat" instead of "sister" or there could have been real trouble.
 
2012-12-06 10:19:55 AM

Arkanaut: My hovercraft is full of IED's :(


/Operation Tiny Fist
 
2012-12-06 10:20:33 AM
This was the least interesting thing I've read about Afghanistan in months.
 
2012-12-06 10:21:32 AM

ciberido: cgraves67: They should try talking louder and slower. That always helps.

What DOES help in situations like this is trying to say the same thing again in a DIFFERENT way whenever you think the person you are talking to might not have understood what you meant. So in the second example ("Not on the agenda!"), the American should have tried saying things like "computer network" or just "computers" instead of saying "system" over and over.

Though to be fair, he did say "new computer system" the second time. Still, there are ways it could have been handled better.


I think the interpreter was just being a douchebag in that second one. He knew perfectly well the guy was saying system...
 
2012-12-06 10:22:40 AM

ciberido: cgraves67: They should try talking louder and slower. That always helps.

What DOES help in situations like this is trying to say the same thing again in a DIFFERENT way whenever you think the person you are talking to might not have understood what you meant. So in the second example ("Not on the agenda!"), the American should have tried saying things like "computer network" or just "computers" instead of saying "system" over and over.

Though to be fair, he did say "new computer system" the second time. Still, there are ways it could have been handled better.


Or hire terps who don't work for the Taliban? You're assuming an honest mistake, but it doesn't sound like one. If you're the feringhi, how do you prove the help isn't Talib?
 
2012-12-06 10:28:58 AM

Goatwhore: Is the NY Times the new Reader's Digest?


It's not 25 years ago. There's actually room in a digital news format for blogs and light fare. It doesn't all have to be hard hitting investigative reporting.

But if that's what you're into the Times did a multi-part series this week on governments at all levels giving out huge incentives to businesses to operate in their area with the promise of jobs, but with what appears to be little accountability for the results.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/01/us/government-incentive s .html?ref=us
 
2012-12-06 10:31:47 AM
Only two examples? Sure, that's enough for a funny story. It's not like bad translations ever got anybody killed, right?

Sounds like these interpreters were hired because they worked cheap and no testing was required to prove that they actually did have a grasp of English.
 
2012-12-06 10:32:49 AM
i.imgur.com
 
2012-12-06 10:34:32 AM
So, if you can't hire someone fluent in both languages hire 2 interpreters, one who speaks English as a first language and one who speaks Afghan as a first language. Pay them less - they're more like interpreter apprentices but they can check each other while also improving their language skills.

I'm sure mistranslations are nothing new and I often wonder how different cultures communicated when encountering each other for the first time especially when Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. (Probably not very well is my guess).
 
2012-12-06 10:41:54 AM
#2 was surely an intentional mistranslation.
 
2012-12-06 10:45:56 AM

BolshyGreatYarblocks: ciberido: cgraves67: They should try talking louder and slower. That always helps.

What DOES help in situations like this is trying to say the same thing again in a DIFFERENT way whenever you think the person you are talking to might not have understood what you meant. So in the second example ("Not on the agenda!"), the American should have tried saying things like "computer network" or just "computers" instead of saying "system" over and over.

Though to be fair, he did say "new computer system" the second time. Still, there are ways it could have been handled better.

Or hire terps who don't work for the Taliban? You're assuming an honest mistake, but it doesn't sound like one. If you're the feringhi, how do you prove the help isn't Talib?


Our interpreter had a shirt that said "Terrorist" on the back. It was hilarious.
 
2012-12-06 10:46:59 AM

RedVentrue: #2 was surely an intentional mistranslation.


Not at all. Remember, when the translator heard "system" he didn't say "sister" to the afghan guy in English, he said it in whatever the heck language those people speak over there. He was thinking, "yes of course, your beautiful system, I saw her at the wedding". that system.
 
2012-12-06 10:48:01 AM
My nipples explode with delight.
 
2012-12-06 10:48:56 AM
All of those stories sound like lame made up text book scenarios used as instruction activities for officers on how to avoid misunderstandings when using a translator.

Can you tell me what Captain Dumb Dumb did wrong in this example and how you can avoid a similar mistake?
 
2012-12-06 10:51:00 AM

snowybunting: My nipples explode with delight.


Been letting your wife use your Iphone have we?
 
2012-12-06 10:58:49 AM

dopekitty74: I think the interpreter was just being a douchebag in that second one. He knew perfectly well the guy was saying system...


You could be right, though it's at least plausible that one could repeatedly mistake "system" for "sister" or vice-versa, given the language barrier they were facing.

CSS time:

I have an American friend named Rob, who (at the time of this story) had been living in Nepal and speaking the Nepali language for about a year. His brother came over to Asia to visit, and they decided to take a vacation together in Thailand. Since neither of them spoke a word of Thai, they did everything in English. They quickly discovered that Rob's brother could not understand anything any Thai person said to them in English, and the Thais they delat with, for their part, did not understand what Rob's brother say. But they could understand Rob reasonably well, and Rob could understand them. So Rob became essentially a translator for his brother, converting US English to Thai-glish, and Thai-glish to US English.

I guess my point is that there is a kind of linguistic "meta-skill" that helps you surmount language barriers. It's a skill that generally improves with time when you deal frequently with people whose native language is not your own.
 
2012-12-06 11:11:27 AM
ciberido
CSS time:

I have an American friend named Rob, who (at the time of this story) had been living in Nepal and speaking the Nepali language for about a year. His brother came over to Asia to visit, and they decided to take a vacation together in Thailand. Since neither of them spoke a word of Thai, they did everything in English. They quickly discovered that Rob's brother could not understand anything any Thai person said to them in English, and the Thais they delat with, for their part, did not understand what Rob's brother say. But they could understand Rob reasonably well, and Rob could understand them. So Rob became essentially a translator for his brother, converting US English to Thai-glish, and Thai-glish to US English.


My dad has a similar story. He's from Australia, and when he was younger he did some globe-trotting and spent some time working in London. On this job site were him, a local Pommy and a Scot. All three allegedly spoke English as a mother tongue, but the Pom had to translate between the Aussie and the Scot.

He said that after he settled in Canada he had to learn to talk like the natives. His accent is now much weaker compared to his brothers.
 
2012-12-06 11:12:57 AM

ciberido: I guess my point is that there is a kind of linguistic "meta-skill" that helps you surmount language barriers. It's a skill that generally improves with time when you deal frequently with people whose native language is not your own.


This. Traveling, I've run into a lot of people who were obviously too proud to be using English to admit when they didn't understand things. You'd get a lot of "uh, yes", then when you came back around to the same question, "uh, no".

Learning to use hand gestures and reiterate things with the very few words of Mandarin/Italian/etc. that I knew helped a lot. I'm very hesitant to use words that I'm not 100% certain I fully understand, but others are just eager to try, and when you're suddenly thrust into the position of an interpreter in a war zone, you must be in over your head quite a bit.
 
2012-12-06 12:57:18 PM
I said posse!!
claytonmoore.tripod.com
 
2012-12-06 02:05:35 PM
www.troll.me
 
2012-12-06 02:08:32 PM

jigger: [www.troll.me image 553x484]


You think that misinterpretation is fake? What a very odd way of looking at life you have.
 
2012-12-06 02:12:51 PM

Happy Hours: So, if you can't hire someone fluent in both languages hire 2 interpreters, one who speaks English as a first language and one who speaks Afghan as a first language. Pay them less - they're more like interpreter apprentices but they can check each other while also improving their language skills.

I'm sure mistranslations are nothing new and I often wonder how different cultures communicated when encountering each other for the first time especially when Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. (Probably not very well is my guess).


Regarding how Europeans communicated with newly contacted cultures in the Americas, I recently read an account written by a soldier who was with Cortez throughout his conquest of the Aztecs, Bernal Diaz. They did two things. One, the Spaniards captured some local women and taught them english. One in particular served as both translator, ambassador and consort to Cortez. Two, the expedition found two Spaniards who had been shipwrecked (or something) years earlier and had been living among the natives, even marrying and having kids. One of them agreed to go with the expedition, the other one though escaped back to his native family as soon as he could. 

Especially amusing/heartbreaking are the parts where he described the Spaniards trying to get them to tear down their religious idols and put up crosses. He says the translators essentially said to Cortez "uh... yeah, I don't think they're going to go for that, boss". In a very few instances (trying to preserve/cement an alliance) Cortez did back down and tell his priest to cool it.
 
2012-12-06 04:35:54 PM

BolshyGreatYarblocks: If you're the feringhi, how do you prove the help isn't Talib?


i.telegraph.co.uk

"Why drag us into it?"
 
2012-12-06 05:11:41 PM
Not really related to the article, but here's my story:

One night, my father-in-law and I were hanging out. His cellphone was nearly out of minutes, so he had bought a refill card. His computer was acting up, so he had to refill by phone. Now, my father-in-law has a pretty strong Southern drawl. The automated system couldn't understand him and kept asking him to repeat the numbers. Each time, he'd say the numbers slower and louder (getting more and more angry), but the system still couldn't understand him. I didn't really have the heart to tell him what the problem was, so I fixed his crappy computer so he could do it online
 
2012-12-06 05:31:41 PM
I find #2 hard to believe. How do we know what the interpreter said ?

Was there someone else present who understood the mistranslation, and if yes, why didn't he correct it ?
 
2012-12-06 05:33:13 PM

miniflea: Happy Hours: So, if you can't hire someone fluent in both languages hire 2 interpreters, one who speaks English as a first language and one who speaks Afghan as a first language. Pay them less - they're more like interpreter apprentices but they can check each other while also improving their language skills.

I'm sure mistranslations are nothing new and I often wonder how different cultures communicated when encountering each other for the first time especially when Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. (Probably not very well is my guess).

Regarding how Europeans communicated with newly contacted cultures in the Americas, I recently read an account written by a soldier who was with Cortez throughout his conquest of the Aztecs, Bernal Diaz. They did two things. One, the Spaniards captured some local women and taught them english. One in particular served as both translator, ambassador and consort to Cortez. Two, the expedition found two Spaniards who had been shipwrecked (or something) years earlier and had been living among the natives, even marrying and having kids. One of them agreed to go with the expedition, the other one though escaped back to his native family as soon as he could. 

Especially amusing/heartbreaking are the parts where he described the Spaniards trying to get them to tear down their religious idols and put up crosses. He says the translators essentially said to Cortez "uh... yeah, I don't think they're going to go for that, boss". In a very few instances (trying to preserve/cement an alliance) Cortez did back down and tell his priest to cool it.


Seems unlikely
 
2012-12-06 05:57:39 PM
Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.
 
2012-12-06 06:29:08 PM

miniflea: Regarding how Europeans communicated with newly contacted cultures in the Americas, I recently read an account written by a soldier who was with Cortez throughout his conquest of the Aztecs, Bernal Diaz. They did two things. One, the Spaniards captured some local women and taught them english. One in particular served as both translator, ambassador and consort to Cortez. Two, the expedition found two Spaniards who had been shipwrecked (or something) years earlier and had been living among the natives, even marrying and having kids. One of them agreed to go with the expedition, the other one though escaped back to his native family as soon as he could. 

Especially amusing/heartbreaking are the parts where he described the Spaniards trying to get them to tear down their religious idols and put up crosses. He says the translators essentially said to Cortez "uh... yeah, I don't think they're going to go for that, boss". In a very few instances (trying to preserve/cement an alliance) Cortez did back down and tell his priest to cool it.


I'm not sure if this is what you read, but a quick search for Bernal Diaz turned up this: Link

Looks interesting...I've only read the prefaces (by translator and author) and the first chapter but it looks very interesting. Thanks
 
2012-12-06 10:00:55 PM
banana
 
2012-12-07 04:17:19 AM
No links yet to the Italian man who went to Malta?!

So here is my story. I worked in Iraq for a year. In my time, some terrorists were captured, detained, arrested, whatever PC word you want to use. We had 3 native born Iraqi-Americans who spoke perfect English, and perfect Iraqi Arabic. After initial detention, they would be questions by military officers about why they were where they were at the time of capture, what they were doing, why they had 50 meters of wire and a single 9v battery, etc etc.

Now, you don't really think about it on a day to day basis, but as Americans, we sure do speak a lot in idiomatic phrases. Linguists, even ones who speak level 5 English and Iraqi Arabic, cannot properly translate an idiom. I was never present for the questioning, but I was good friends with one of the translators and she recounted many stories like this. None like the article. If you have a good translator, that kind of crap doesn't happen. But when an angry Army man yells "You're not in Kansas anymore!" at a detainee and waits for the translation, you have a problem. Thankfully this particular translator didn't have any reservations about telling people they were being stupid. She would just stare out of the tops of her eyes or tell the military man "Do you really think that's going to translate to this guy? Give me a break."

"piece of cake", "the last straw", "straight from the horses mouth". She had stories about all of these.
 
2012-12-07 12:24:23 PM

WhiskeyBoy: "piece of cake", "the last straw", "straight from the horses mouth". She had stories about all of these.


In that case, you either use an equivalent expression from the other language or, if one doesn't exist, give the literal meaning: "trivially easy"; "after this I'm not putting up with [x] anymore"; "directly spoken by [person in question", etc.

Interpretation is way harder than translation, though, given how much you have to think on your feet.

/translator
 
2012-12-07 04:32:11 PM

capt.hollister: miniflea: Happy Hours: So, if you can't hire someone fluent in both languages hire 2 interpreters, one who speaks English as a first language and one who speaks Afghan as a first language. Pay them less - they're more like interpreter apprentices but they can check each other while also improving their language skills.

I'm sure mistranslations are nothing new and I often wonder how different cultures communicated when encountering each other for the first time especially when Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. (Probably not very well is my guess).

Regarding how Europeans communicated with newly contacted cultures in the Americas, I recently read an account written by a soldier who was with Cortez throughout his conquest of the Aztecs, Bernal Diaz. They did two things. One, the Spaniards captured some local women and taught them english. One in particular served as both translator, ambassador and consort to Cortez. Two, the expedition found two Spaniards who had been shipwrecked (or something) years earlier and had been living among the natives, even marrying and having kids. One of them agreed to go with the expedition, the other one though escaped back to his native family as soon as he could. 

Especially amusing/heartbreaking are the parts where he described the Spaniards trying to get them to tear down their religious idols and put up crosses. He says the translators essentially said to Cortez "uh... yeah, I don't think they're going to go for that, boss". In a very few instances (trying to preserve/cement an alliance) Cortez did back down and tell his priest to cool it.

Seems unlikely


Mormon Jesus taught English to those wimmin long before Cortes arrived.
 
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