Journalists' junket to the Netherlands gets lost in translation

Mistranslated questions show Israeli reporters why computer translations are not to be trusted.

By
November 6, 2007 01:32
2 minute read.
Journalists' junket to the Netherlands gets lost in translation

babel fish 88. (photo credit: )

When the Dutch foreign minister invited a group of Israeli journalists to visit the Netherlands, he expected that there might be questions about European involvement in the Middle East or his country's commitment to economic sanctions against Iran. What he wasn't expecting were questions about his mother. Over the weekend, the Dutch Foreign Ministry received a puzzling e-mail from the delegation of journalists who were scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam next week for an educational seminar on the Dutch political system. "Helloh bud, Enclosed five of the questions in honor of the foreign minister: The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favor or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian, and on relational Israel Holland," began the e-mail. It continued with five nearly incomprehensible questions, and several other mentions of "mother." "How could this e-mail possibly have been sent? These journalists have sparked a major, major incident," said an official from Israel's Foreign Ministry. "Sure he can't understand many of the questions, because the English is so bad. But he is being asked about the sleeping arrangements of his mother!" The Foreign Ministry contacted the journalists who sent the e-mail and discovered that an automated on-line translation tool was at the root of the problem. The journalist who had arranged the trip and conducted all the previous communication was away on reserve duty when the Dutch Consulate requested a preview of the questions that the journalists intended to ask. Another journalist involved in the trip took it upon himself to send the questions, and - in lieu of a working knowledge of English - relied on an on-line translation site, www.babylon.com. Typing in his Hebrew questions, he copied the automatic translations into an e-mail and sent it to the Dutch Foreign Ministry. Questions which were meant to read: "What, in your opinion, needs to be done regarding the Iranian threat to Israel?" Became: "What in your opinion needs to do opposite the awful the Iranian of Israel." As for the references to the foreign minister's "mother" - the Babelfish Web site had translated the Hebrew word for "if" (ha'im) as the similar word for mother (ha'ima). Other mistakes included "bandages of the knitted domes" instead of "Dome of the Rock" and one question that read: "Why we did not heard on mutual visits of main the states of Israel and Holland, this is in the country of this." "We are very, very embarrassed about this serious mess-up. It happened to be that the one journalist on the trip who knows no English took it upon himself to send the e-mail," said one of the reporters. The Dutch Foreign Ministry is considering canceling the entire trip and filling a formal complaint over the incident. The journalists, meanwhile, said that they were currently too embarrassed to continue with the planned visit.


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