I belong to a number of online discussions groups that are not necessarily exclusively Anglophone. Sometimes I’ll come across an interesting description that’s in Korean, or German, or Japanese. Enter the simple solution of using Babelfish or Google translation where, at the push of a key I can get something like “The outrageous blue beach ball will become a flaming junkyard maybe emergency.”

And that’s without so much as a bong hit.

I thought of this a week or so ago when I attended a presentation by an entrepreneur who founded a translation company. She noted that errors in translation–sometimes of just one word– have cost companies millions.
This brought me back to an event about fifteen years ago. I had accompanied a client to China, as a sounding board for some business opportunities. In the course of our travels we toured Guangzhou, where the managing director of a manufacturing company wanted to enlist my client in creating a pharmaceutical plant. We drove out to the countryside; my client and the managing director sat up front, where they conversed in Mandarin, and I was in the back seat with a young lady who evidently was the managing director’s administrative assistant. She was also the office’s designated English speaker.

She smiled at me and said, “Good morning! It is a beautiful day, is it not?” Since I assumed that she’d recently made it through the first CD of a Rosetta Stone course, I strung along.

“Yes, it is a most beautiful day.”

We passed a sports stadium. “This is our new sports stadium. It can seat 100,000 people.”

“That is a beautify sports stadium. It is very impressive.”

“Thank you!” Then we merged onto an expressway.

“This is our new superhighway. More than 10,000 cars travel on it each hour.”

“It is a beautiful, smooth road.”

“Thank you!” Then we drove into the center of town.

“This is the center of Guangzhou. All these modern skyscrapers were built in five years.”

“They are very beautiful, modern skyscrapers!”

“Thank you! We are very proud of our modern erections.”

“We feel the same way in the United States.”

Here’s to clear communications!

Happy Springtime,

Jim Shulman