If ever there was an example to illustrate the need for professional translation, it was this; major Chinese newspaper The People’s Daily have taken an article by the Onion as fact and consequently declared North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un the Sexiest Man Alive, utilising the American satire website’s description of the, ahem, “great man”:
“With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true. Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.”
This shouldn’t happen.
It does, though. Every day. It’s a mystery to me that people still take translation of foreign languages so lightly. In developed countries, we’re confronted with language from the day we’re born; it never leaves us, and becomes an absolutely integral part of how our brains work.
Granted, there are much better ways of determining that the Onion is not a legitimate news source (though it does shed perhaps more light on current affairs than most ‘real’ outlets). For example, you could read about the previous stories that have been taken as gospel by foreign journalists. There are plenty of them to go around, including one from earlier this year wherein the publication asserted that white voters in the USA would rather vote for Iranian President Ahmadinejad than Obama.
But this still says quite a lot about the way we approach foreign-language content. The Onion prides itself on the line it toes between reality and fiction, in both tone and content, but any educated English speaker with awareness of English-language culture could have distinguished that the article wasn’t being entirely serious. It’s not enough to just translate English to Chinese from text on a page. You have to get inside of the words, and for that, you need someone whose brain works the right way. Use native speakers for your translation, or you risk looking more than a little bit silly.
29 November 2012 15:47