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Lost in translation at My Allrecipes May 11, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, Translation.

One of my former students posted this amusing anecdote to the Kentlingua listserv tonight. A woman wanted to send two recipes to her boyfriend’s mother in Costa Rica and took the easy way out.

A few weeks ago, I made a chicken dish for Carlos that he loved. After the first bite, he told me it was so good, would I mind sending the recipe to his mother in Costa Rica? I only speak conversational Spanish, but I thought what the heck, I would try to translate it to English before I sent it. How hard could that be, right?

Machine translation strikes again, but this time at least the person who used the online translator is embarrassed of the results 🙂 Enjoy!



1. JLibbey - May 12, 2009

Thanks for sharing! I can just imagine how much everyone who read the translation laughed.

2. Susanne Aldridge III - May 12, 2009

Too bad she didn’t post the online translation tool she used – I can hardly believe it turned out THIS bad.

3. Mago - May 25, 2009

Hilarious, but inadvertently also a good illustration of why backtranslation is a very inadequate way to judge the quality of a translation.

True, most of the absurdities point to mistakes made by the automatic translator into Spanish, but some of them are simply a result of the differences between the way things are said in English and in Spanish, and others clearly show that the right word was used in the Spanish version, but mistranslation took place in the backtranslation to English.

Some examples are the way “simmer” turned into “slow fire,” which had the cook quite perplexed. But “slow fire” is actually the normal way to express “low heat” in Spanish recipes. And the way that “pound chicken breasts until thinned out” turned into “strike” the “boobies” until they are “diminished,” isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. If only the right word had been used for the chicken breasts, the rest of the sentence would have, again, been a normal way to express it in Spanish.

The garlic “nail” and “smooth” onion no doubt result from mistakes in the back-translation from Spanish to English. It’s clear that the Spanish version had right words for “smooth” and “clove” (“suave” and “clavo”) but these were translated back to English incorrectly.

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