Fatal mistakes of interpretation in international affairs

Bitter experience in international affairs


May 23, 2022
"Advertising slaps" and their consequences

A huge number of errors in foreign trade and other international affairs is made due to incorrect interpretation. Sometimes such mistakes lead to loss of fortunes or international conflicts.

During negotiations of Bank of America with a Middle East bank, "deposited with a third party," sounded like a "scam" in the French version of the translation
Bank fraudsters

A sad case of financial failure occurred with Bank of America because of an incorrect understanding of words with multiple meanings. The Bank got an opportunity to buy a Middle East bank. But its self-confident director, who imagined that he knew French well enough, decided to save money on an interpreter and did not involve a professional in negotiations. As a result, his greed and carelessness cost a multi-million dollar deal to the bank

At the end of negotiations, the director suggested in French "until the terms of the contract are met, to provisionally deposit money at third party accounts". The sellers, humiliated by such a proposal, angrily interrupted the negotiation process. This misunderstanding occurred because of incorrect translation of the banking term "deposited with a third party," which in French sounded like a "scam".

Of course, the respectable sellers had nothing else to do but look for another buyer, although Bank of America is more than a decent buyer.

Turks and turkeys

Once, when a prestigious school "Phillips Exeter Academy" first opened its SYA program in Barcelona, it was preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. The director instructed his young secretary, a Catalan, who spoke Spanish and English, to get a few turkeys - traditional meat for this American holiday. The girl, without hesitation, called to the Turkish Consulate. After all, she did not know all meanings of the English word "turkey" which means Turkey as a poultry and Turkey as a nationality when written with a capital letter.

Far and by, the Turks readily agreed to come to the event. When talking to the grateful foreigners, the girl asked her chief, in what form the Turks should be, and he replied: "Preferably plucked. Less fuss will be with them." The puzzled girl translated the director's words to the Turks. No, they were not surprised. They were outraged and extremely offended. Thus, because of the translator's ignorance of subtleties of the English language and American national traditions, a small international scandal broke out.

Insight into history. The Nuremberg Trials
Trojan horse

In 1946, at the Nuremberg trials, Goering's testimony was translated into English by a US military commander, who knew German well, but did not have simultaneous interpretation experience. At first, the broadcast was smooth, but when the Reich Minister pronounced the phrase "Trojan horse policy", the interpreter, who did not know the ancient history, hesitated, flushed, and phlegmatically muttered: "Some kind of horse?.."

The holdback lasted for a moment, but it was enough to bring confusion to the process. The unsuspecting defendant continued to give evidence, but the thought was lost because of the synchronization interruption. The interpreters’ supervisor stopped the interrogation and replaced the embarrassed girl with another, more experienced one.

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