Indian translation failure hits the headlines once more

May 16, 2016
Indian translation failure hits the headlines once more

At the end of last year, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi hit the headlines when making a speech in Thrissur. It wasn’t the rousing messages that he was delivering that ensured the speech went viral, but rather the poor translation delivered by his interpreter. Now, Rajya Sabha MP and her translator are in the limelight thanks to another entertaining translation fail. 

PM Narendra Modi’s translation nightmare

Everyone has a bad day at work from time to time, but when you’re an interpreter translating a speech for the Indian prime minister, the details of your bad day at work have the potential to spread like wildfire. This is precisely what happened when K Surendran’s translation of prime minster Narendra Modi’s speech went viral at the end of 2015. 

The important political visit to Kerala was the first by Narendra Modi since he took office. The prime minister attempted to apologise for not having visited sooner, saying:

“First of all I have to apologize to the people here in Kerala because I am late in coming here. I should have come sooner. But now, I promise that this will not happen.”

However, interpreter K Surendran translated the comments as:

“I am very happy to arrive here in Kerala. From a long time, I have made regular visits to Kerala. But now the situation here in Kerala is not the same. There are big changes taking places here. I am very happy.”

The mistake was quickly realized and the translator replaced. 

MP Rajya Sabha’s translation fail

Now, a speech by MP Rajya Sabha has become the next video to spread around social media at lightning speed. Translating from English to Malayalam, the interpreter makes a number of mistakes. At one point, Rajya Sabha states:

“And it is only through these multiple efforts…,” 

Her translator delivers:

“It is only possible through ballot papers.”

At one point the interpreter translates ‘women of Kerala’ as ‘criminals of Kerala.’ And finally there is a moment when the translator simply lapses into silence, unable to offer even a rough approximation of what Rajya Sabha states. 

The MP was not unconscious of the problems, looking confused and shaking her head while saying:

“Kurachu kurachu Malayalam ariyam – I can understand a little bit of Malayalam.” 
Needless to say, the speech was not one of her most well received. 

Final thoughts

Have you experienced a translation fail of this magnitude? How did you recover from it? Let us know by leaving a comment. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



Subscribe to receive all the latest updates from Tomedes.

Post your Comment

I want to receive a notification of new postings under this topic


Need expert language assistance? Inquire now

Do It Yourself

I want a free quote now and I'm ready to order my translations.

Do It For Me

I'd like Tomedes to provide a customized quote based on my specific needs.

Want to be part of our team?