Lost in Translation

More often than not, if a message is not originally communicated in a particular language, it tends to fall apart in translation. Translation is no easy task, so this is understandable. What is usually not understandable is the translation itself.

At a church in Taiwan, the service was conducted almost entirely in Taiwanese. For the benefit of the few non-Taiwanese members, someone translated the sermon into English. The translation went something like this:

“So God told Adam not to eat the trees.”

“God created the universe to bring him Gloria.”

At a different church with a larger non-Taiwanese speaking congregation, the church used simultaneous translation. Those wanting to hear the sermon in English would be provided with a headset. A translator who sat in the back would translate the sermon into English. During one service, the speaker apparently made a joke. The locals were roaring in their seats. Expecting a really good joke, we listened intently. No joke was translated. Instead, “He told an old Taiwanese joke, it wasn’t that funny. I’m not going to translate it.”

In Taiwan, there are a multitude of cram schools – some of which actually develop their own teaching materials. Someone should have warned the writers that the English language can be difficult to handle.

In a kindergarten-level reader:

“Here is a banana. Peel it. Put it in your mouse.”

In some cases, it’s hard to determine if the author was having a bad day, or just has a very weird sense of humour.

In a phonics reader: “Here is a bus. The bus is on fire.” (By the way, this book was fully illustrated.)

Of course, this is not to suggest that the Taiwan is without decent English learning material – far from it. There is an abundance of material easily available for purchase by parents, learners and of course, the cram school managers. Unfortunately, one particular school has material which was written in the late 1970s. The publisher has apparently refused to update the curriculum.

In a book teaching students about the future tense, there is an artistic interpretation of what life would be like in the future. The illustration includes flying cars, homes built underground, which are cleaned and managed by robots. Traditional pavement was replaced with moving sidewalks. So far, so good. And then the text starts. “Imagine the year 2001. Think about it, it can be fun.” Technically, not lost in translation, but seriously misplaced somewhere along the space-time continuum.

In a world completely devoid of translation or language learning of any form, we would be lost, quickly abandoning any attempts at working with people who speak a different language (see Genesis 11:1 – 8). While not all translations will lead to understanding, many will leave you with a smile.



  1. Hahahaha….yeah…..good times….

    I’ll never forget the time I was going over present continuous with my high school students. i.e: I love to swim. Yesterday I swam. Today I’m going swimming.

    One student said: I love to play squash. Yesterday I squished…..

    • Kash

      Haha, brilliant!


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