When The Subtle Changes In Context Can Make All The Difference!

There are good and bad sides to our current 24 hour media – as well as Social Media.  Especially when it comes to people deciding they need tweets which were written in a foreign language translating – and they want it done now!!!

Let me just state that even I have been known to find Google Translate to be a useful app.  I just don’t trust it to understand the difference between contexts.

Allow me to attempt to explain.

At London 2012 a Dutch judoka sent a tweet in her native language which – until I had pointed out the error in the translation – caused an English Twittercop (in a blog post) to call for her immediate arrest as she had allegedly admitted to a serious crime.

I was quite surprised that the Twittercop in question considered this to be a “true and accurate representation” of the facts – as I had heard about the incident on the radio.  No crime was being discussed.

What had actually happened was someone had thrown a bottle onto the track before a race and the Judoka had hit them.

“Ik heb hem verslaan” was the phrase in the Judoka’s tweet which caused the confusion.  Google Translate will correctly translate the last word as “beat”.  However, this is only in the context of beating a team.  When it comes to humans “verslaan” is correctly translated as “to hit”.

Of course – you could say that hitting someone is still an act of violence.

This also makes me wonder why the only language I was taught by a native speaker (apart from English) was Dutch.  I learned both French and German at Secondary school but none of the teachers I had were French or German (they were all English).

Native (and near-native) speakers can explain the differences in context in a way which is easy to understand.  They can also help you learn the same language which is actually spoken in that country.

If you don’t believe me – next time you are in a foreign country find a phrasebook between that language and English.  Then see if you recognise any of the English phrases as being ones you actually use in conversation.  You may be shocked.

We all need to be careful about thinking that just because Google Translate says something is the definitive translation they are always correct.

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