Translation Gone Wrong: the Case of the “Clitoris Festival” in Galicia

apple-desk-office-technologyI first published this post on Pulse, LinkedIn’s content creation and sharing platform, on 16 November this year.

You’ve probably never heard of As Pontes, a small town in the province of Galicia in north-western Spain. And you might have remained blissfully unaware of its existence if its council hadn’t made a serious error of judgement, a mistake that has put the municipality on the world map of translation gaffes.

Back in 1981 the town came up with the idea of a festival to celebrate traditional agriculture and attract visitors. That’s how the Feira do Grelo was born. Held in February during carnival time every year, it includes a competition to find the best grelo. What’s that you ask? Good question.

There are loads of translations for this vegetable into English, from turnip tops (which is the matter-of-fact description of what it basically is) to rapini and broccoli raab, as it is known in the US, where it is gaining in popularity. It’s leafy, green, no doubt extraordinarily good for you, and apparently an acquired taste since it can be rather bitter.

Although translators into English might spend some time scratching their heads deciding on the best rendering of grelo for their context, the translation of grelo from Galician into Spanish couldn’t be easier as it’s exactly the same because Spanish has adopted the Galician term. Thus, the Galician Feira do Grelo is simply Feria or Fiesta del Grelo in Spanish. So utterly simple a mistranslation would seem nigh on impossible.

But the council’s website got it wrong and ended up with a translation into Spanish announcing the “Clitoris Festival” because, bizarrely, instead of using a professional human translator, they ran the text through Google Translate (GT). Machine translation is notoriously good at getting things all muddled and being inaccurate, but quite why GT couldn’t manage grelo = grelo is still a mystery, although some claim it might have got confused with the Portuguese word grelo, which can mean clitoris.

I’m sure you’re thinking what I’m thinking. Didn’t anyone check it before it went live (and stayed live for some time) on the website? After all, who doesn’t speak Spanish in Galicia? That’s why the first lesson is:

Check your content before you publish it

And if you can’t do that because you don’t understand the language, have it checked by someone who does.

Surprisingly, the first reaction of As Pontes was to blame Google rather than themselves. Google has responded by rectifying this particular problem, so hopefully GT will not make the same mistake again. But as Google quite rightly pointed out, if you use GT “there will be mistakes or mistranslations”. Of course it’s not perfect. They provide the tool as is. So the second lesson is:

Use Google Translate at your peril

It will not translate your content perfectly, it could make you a laughing stock worldwide and it will not be good for SEO. Google doesn’t even use GT for their own business purposes. And they are not comfortable with automatically generated content either as it does not enhance user experience.

Just because there are free online machine translation tools that could save you money, it doesn’t mean you should actually use them for business purposes. Which brings me to the third and final lesson:

You get what you pay for

Seriously now, when you pay nothing for a document or text you want a customer of yours to read so they will use (and pay for) your services, what kind of quality are you expecting? If you want to create the right impression and inspire confidence in your potential clients, hire a professional translator to make your content sound as good in another language as it does in yours.

Photo by Craig Garner on Unsplash

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