Welsh translation blunders making headlines
Visitors to the UK are often surprised to discover that English is not the only language spoken. Indeed, Welsh is the first language of many people in Wales and particularly of those native to North Wales.
Signs and official documents in Wales must be written in both English and Welsh.
You would think that businesses and official bodies would take great care to ensure that the translations from English to Welsh that they use are accurate.
But there have been many embarrassing Welsh translation blunders and the latest of these was perhaps the most shocking of them all.
Emergency alert test
The UK government is in the process of instituting an emergency alert system. This is designed to warn people nationally or regionally about imminent threats to life including floods, storms and acts of terrorism.
Emergency alerts will allegedly be sent from mobile phone masts to every phone in the affected area. The alerts are in the form of messages accompanied by vibration and a siren.
Sunday 23 April 2023, the new system was tested nationally for the first time. An alert was supposed to be sent to all mobile phones in the UK. There are an estimated 85 million handsets in the UK. Unfortunately, the test proved to be a shambles. Many mobile phones did not receive the emergency test alert, including most of the handsets on the Three network. A large number of phones received the message 20 minutes after it was issued – not great during a genuine emergency.
To make matters worse, the Welsh translation of the original English version contained a huge error.
The original message featured the sentence “In a real emergency, follow the instructions in the alert to keep yourself and others safe”. But in the Welsh version, the word “safe” had been translated as “yn vogel“. There is no such word as vogel in the Welsh language. Indeed, there is no letter V in the Welsh alphabet! The proper translation of “safe” is “yn ddiogel“.
Camgymeriad Doniol (Amusing errors)
It was rather disturbing that an emergency alert issued by the government contained a fundamental error. In some areas of Wales, Welsh is the first language of more than 80% of the residents and so such blunders are potentially very serious indeed.
However, some mistakes are simply hilarious!
For instance, back in 2014, shoppers at the Aberystwyth branch of Tesco were delighted to discover a special offer advertised on the store’s ATMs. The rather appealing message “free money” appeared on the machines together with a Welsh translation that read “’codiad am ddim”. Sadly for Tesco, this means “free erections”. The correct translation of “free money” is “arian am ddim”. Oops!
Unsurprisingly, the cash machines attracted a great deal of attention!
Another terrible translation appeared on a sign at a shop in Wales selling wines and spirits. The word “spirits” had been translated as “ysbyidion” which means “ghosts”! A ghost shop! Now, that would be interesting!
Even the Welsh accent has proved problematic
North Wales has hit the headlines globally in recent times thanks to Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. The actors purchased the football club Wrexham AFC and the story is the subject of a documentary series produced by Disney+. The series was primarily aimed at a North American audience and it shows!
The production team clearly thought that the North Walian accent was problematic, even when the people concerned were speaking in English. The documentary featured subtitles when local people were speaking to ensure that viewers could understand what was being said. Those subtitles included several blunders. One Wrexham fan saying “doesn’t matter” ended up being translated as “at the moment” in the subtitles. There were occasions when the producers obviously had no idea what people were saying and so used the subtitle “????!”
The Wrexham story has attracted much interest as has the Disney+ documentary. Happily for all concerned, the football club is now on the way up – literally. 22 April 2023, Wrexham AFC won the National League and so were promoted to the English Football League. Watch out Manchester City and Liverpool, Wrexham are coming, even if nobody can understand them!
Welsh and Google Translate
Wrexham also made headlines last year when a local retail park displayed an erroneous sign. As drivers left the car park they were invited to “call again”. But the Welsh translation of the sign was “Ffoniwch eto” which means “ring back”. It should have said “Galwch eto”.
It is likely that Google Translate was used to produce the signage. Many issues with Google Translate have arisen. As with the car park sign and the abovementioned wines and spirits store, it is homonyms (words with multiple meanings) that cause confusion.
Google Translate will usually produce a correct translation of a word but that doesn’t mean that the resulting translation is acceptable as it could be a translation of the wrong sense of the word.
Proofreading is essential
The issues with Google Translate highlight the importance of using a native speaker to perform or check translations. While some translation errors are amusing, others may have serious consequences. Local people can find it insulting that organisations haven’t bothered to check their signage or the documents they are issuing.
Wales now boasts a high profile globally courtesy of two Hollywood actors, a government emergency alert and a great deal of controversy regarding both second homes and a proposed tourist tax.
It is more important than ever that translations are accurate, and it is all too apparent that many are not. Translation errors are never a good thing, even when you are dealing with foreign languages but in the UK, it is a native language that is proving to be the greatest challenge.