Monday, April 6, 2009

Memory Monday: Lost in Translation

Ah, Memory Monday: The day of the week when I reminisce about an old job.

For me, one of the finer points of being in marketing research was analyzing the international open-ended answers from surveys. For example, one common survey question asks respondents to state the one thing that XYZ company could do to improve their service. Many surveys with these sorts of open-ended questions that let respondents type in their answers freely were administered not only here in the US, but abroad as well in countries ranging from India to Russia to France.

There are 2 memories we need to discuss.

Number one: My latest employer sometimes didn't have time to get these international responses translated. Really, they were just incredibly cheap. Luckily, though, the questions required short answers. As a result, my former employer decided that free online translation services, such as Babel Fish, would suffice.

For the first 4 days of my work there, I translated Russian, German, and Japanese responses into English using this amazingly inaccurate service. ALL of the translations were terrible and didn't really make any sense. I remember one example was something like, "With the net it needs [PRODUCT] just, the home delivery it does to the home." I'm sorry, what? I'm sure you didn't mean that, Hiromi from Toyko. What it is you did mean, well, we will probably never know.

Number two: My favorite encounter, however, with international translations was at my first job. They were a larger company, and spent the big bucks to have responses in other languages translated back into English by a professional translation company.

There was one project where the open-ended question required a long response, and it was my responsibility to go through about 100 of these and record some trends. Around translation 79, I was starting to get loopy, and so I thought I imagined reading "I knew in my technical heart" on the transcript. What? You knew in your technical heart? I was confused. Maybe this gentleman just meant he knew something in his heart? I read on, but that didn't seem to make much sense either. Something was literally lost in translation.

To this day I still say "I knew in my technical heart" as a saying... one understands why or what it means, but for some reason, it warms me.

Over the years, there have been plenty of translation mishaps. It was a plus of working in the industry; a little something to look forward to amidst the cornucopia of crap. And now, if you ask me, "Do you miss it, Pam?" I would smile, almost wistfully, and say, "It's taken some time, but I've learned to live without the translations. No, it's the money I miss..." And so, the lesson here is "miss the money, never for the working," or at least that was what it said when I translated it in Babel Fish.

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