Thirty years ago, English translations in Hungary were mostly awkward and amusing; today they are mostly accurate and effective. The country's development since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the rapid advancements in computer technology are the primary reasons behind the improvement in quality. Though Hungarian-to-English translation has progressed significantly since the 1990s, you can still encounter some baffling examples of mistranslated text from time to time.
Unskilled translators are the reason behind some of the bad translations, but more often than not, mistranslated or ludicrously worded translations are the direct result of corner-cutting in an effort to save money. Bigger companies and well-to-do business people can afford the high cost of professional translation services, but spending several hundred or perhaps thousands of euros to translate texts and websites is beyond the reach of many smaller businesses, particularly family-run enterprises.
Consequently, many small enterprises forgo professional translators and take matters into their own hands by uploading their business texts into online translators like Google Translate. This is a fine strategy provided the translation Google provides is then checked over by a native speaker or someone with good proofreading skills in the target language. I am not a tech expert, but to my knowledge programs like Google Translate are based on statistical machine translation. Essentially, Google Translate gathers a great deal of text, as much as it can find that seems to be parallel between the source and target languages, and then reduces this data statistically and uses algorithms to find the probability of matching words and phrases. Put bluntly, it is statistical rather than a rule-based translation, which opens up the possibility for a considerable amount of misinterpretation.
Case in point, a small restaurant in Hungary uploaded their entire menu into Google Translate and printed out the resulting translation without getting a proofreader to check it first. Needless to say, the end product contained the rather perplexing menu selection shown below:
Now, I have not written this to mock the restaurateurs who created this menu. My family was in the restaurant business for years, so I understand how tight money can be in that industry. Nor am I merely poking fun at the mistakes people make in writing, translating, and editing, which are difficult tasks in any language. When it comes to language, errors are rather common and usually forgivable. For example, my blog posts sometimes contain errors and typos (maybe this one does, too) - not because I am ignorant of the rules, but because I am human.
The overall intent of this post is to draw attention to the unforeseen negative consequences of corner-cutting and compromises. The restaurateurs who Google Translated their menu likely did so to save money, and they succeeded in this regard. Nevertheless, the corner they cut has probably cost them dearly as I cannot imagine any foreign diner ever ordered the dead for two people. In addition, the menu faux pas brought the restaurant in question a considerable amount of negative publicity. Bad press can sometimes bring unexpected benefits, but somehow I can't imagine the negative publicity did anything more than make a laughing stock of the people who run this little eatery.
All the same, I empathize with the people who own the restaurant featuring the dead for two people dish because I have been in similar situations myself. When I finished writing my novel in 2012, I did not have the money to hire a professional editor or proofreader, so I completed the work myself.
After I published the book, I was appalled by all the errors and typos I had left in it. A few early reviews mention the many errors the text contained. Embarrassed, I gave the book to a few friends who helped proofread it. Our efforts improved the novel immensely and subsequent reviews make no mention of grammatical or typographical errors. Nonetheless, the current version of the book still contains the odd error here and there.
At one level, I am untroubled by this because you can find typos and errors in professionally edited and published books as well. Yet at another level, I know the first error-filled edition of the novel I had put on the market was entirely the fault of cut corners. I had compromised somewhere I should not have. If I had hired an editor/proofreader, I could have avoided all the trouble and the lingering doubts I still have concerning the quality of the finished product.
We do not always have a choice when it comes to getting things done. In certain circumstances, we simply must make due with certain constraints and console ourselves with the notion that poorly done is better than not done at all. At the same time, allowing for the possibility of poorly done when the means for well done are available seems both risky and foolish.
This is the cruel crux of the cut corner. In essence, it is corruption - and it is bound to have negative consequences in the end.
I wonder if the restaurateurs who created the menu above experienced the same flash of revelation once they finally understood why no Russian, German, or English-speaking guest ever ordered the delicious fish platter for two.