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  • Yelena McCafferty

Lost in Translation?

Updated: May 15, 2021

The title of the film we heard and probably watched a few times… And although the film itself doesn’t focus on any blunders made by interpreters, this phrase sounds so true for those occasions when the translation is so badly wrong…

Take a website of a Russian hotel… those pages translated into English. I am not sure if the English-speaking hotel staff endeavoured to do the translation themselves or the job was commissioned to an amateur. Anyway, looking through the site, you suddenly see descriptions of ‘numbers’. Why is a room called a number, you may ask? The answer is simple, in Russian the same word “номер” denotes both a number and a hotel room. For a professional Russian translator, this wouldn’t be a problem, of course. A mistake like that would be totally unacceptable and the incorrect word wouldn’t even cross their mind. The person who made the mistake has a very poor grasp of the language and used the first dictionary entry for the Russian «номер». I’d love to see your reaction, too, if you saw the instruction “Preserve Calmness” in the fire and emergency rules of your hotel room… The lunatics are running the asylum, you may think. Careful though, the Russian “lunatik” means “sleepwalker”, not insane!

This is another thing called False Friends of Interpreters when international words sound so similar and yet have a different meaning. In English a decade is a period of 10 years, in Russian “декада” (pronounced dekada) is 10 days. Makes a difference, doesn’t it?

For those in the Russian translation business translations are not a hobby. It is a job we are obliged to do well, like true professionals. The translator’s profession exists because it cannot be replaced by machines using word combinations... not yet anyway…

[Tip: To use a professional Russian translation service, call us on 0207 0436940 or email]



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