My friend once said: “I can pick up Russian so easily, I can become a translator.” He said that after using an online machine translation tool. Little did he know how useless most of them are. Even though they are getting better and better, they are no substitute for a human brain which carefully selects the correct word out of millions and puts it in the correct form in the right order.
A few people use machine translators with caution. Mostly because of bad personal experience. And yet it amazes me how much people, and especially organisations and companies, underestimate the benefits of hiring a professional interpreter or translator. I spent a few days in France this month where people worship their language. Yet where they do care to translate their marketing materials, signs and menus, they appear to have done it on the cheap. It surprises me how a café in the world-famous Versailles refers to the chicken as “he” and calls espresso “express coffee”.
The Paris sightseeing bus displays a caution sign where “anything” is divided into two words. It may make a happy and jolly English tourist laugh, but it made me, a Russian linguist, think. How can such respectable companies afford turning themselves into a laughing stock? Or does it show their true Parisian attitude I happened to experience, which clearly reveals their dislike of tourists? You-don’t-speak-to-me-in-French-so-I-don’t-care type of thing… Remember he laughs who laughs last?
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