Mistranslations in Practice – A Short Story

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This blog post is a little different than the others.  In this entry, you will read the tale of a gamer embarking upon an adventure, an adventure through a game unlike any other…a game riddled with odd happenings and strange occurrences, a game that takes you back to games of ancient times, a game that transforms the gamer’s entire gaming experience, a game that…well, you’ll see…


Soda – check.  Chips – check.  Controller – That’s a given.  Shoot, where are the batteries…“Mom!!!”

Okay, now I’m ready.

The start menu pops up – a fantasy world unfolds before you, complete with elves in a wooded, magical land.  (You know it’s magical because of the fairy dust shimmering through unfurling fog.)  A white, Asian-style dragon soars across the landscape, small in the distance.  The music is a symphonic masterpiece, beautifully constructed to convey a sense of serene majesty, with the rich sound of violins and the lilting melody of flutes resonating together.

Suddenly, the music crackles like an old radio being tuned, and chanting overshadows the tranquility of the scene.  “Cha b’urrainn do bhàrd, thuirt thu, a dhualchas no a thìr a roghainn, air neo a chànain…”  A word appears, blinking on the screen “STRAT.”  The symphony overtakes the chanting for an instant, and then it continues, “…ach du choir gu robh an dìlseachd a b’àirde’s a bu shàir a bh’aige da chogais fhèin a-mhàin …”  The sound cuts out, and the screen goes dark.  The only visible object is the word “STRAT” blinking on the blackened screen.

What the heck was that?  Strat?  Guess I’ll go with the start button…

A small cloaked figure appears on the far left, a twisting dirt path laid before him.  Enemies dart about, sprites and gnomes blocking the figure’s way.  [Presses “X.”]  “Okay, figured out how to jump.  Let’s kill these suckers.”  Navigating through the liberally spruced area is a bit of challenge but not bad once you time your jumps well.

After continuing on for some minutes, it’s just like any other platform game, complete with the little ditty of a tune.  As the character ventures further across the screen, a giant lollipop appears in line with the trees.  That’s weird.  When the character reaches the lollipop, the screen flickers rapidly.  It takes a solid minute for the flickering to subside.  Well that was annoying.

Kill some more enemies and a short while later, another lollipop.  Oh no.  When the character approaches the lollipop, a bolded message zooms onto the screen, “Being the wise and courageour knight that you are you feel strongth welling in your body.”  That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen…but it looks oddly familiar.

One screen later and the game goes black again.  “Oh come ON!  Work, you piece of junk!”

A creepy looking purple figure with sickeningly green skin appears, along with the text, “All your base are belong to us.”

“Hahahaha.  Is this a joke?  I watched YouTube for an entire afternoon just to see that poorly translated part of Zero Wing.”

[Taps “Y.”]  The screen returns to the sidescrolling platformer.  “I gotta call someone…This is just too weird.”  [Calls Jimmy.]  “Yeah, hi, Jimmy.  You picked up that new game, right?  Have you played it yet?”  Laughter on the other end.

“Heck yeah, dude.  That game is amazing!  Absolutely hilarious.  Have you gotten to Bimmy yet?”

“What?  Bimmy, as in Double Dragon 3?”

“Yeah dude.  You know, I almost stopped playing until I got to the guy from Zero Wing.  I was fed up with all the glitches.  It wasn’t until that next part of the game when I realized they were intentional!”

“What do you mean?”

“Keep playing, you’ll see.  There are all kinds of errors from old games and some the developers threw in for fun.  Just make sure you catch them in time.  Anyway, call me when you’re done.”

Well that was a weird conversation.  [Unpause.]  Why is my character moving on its own?  And what is this crosshair doing on the screen?  Oh, I can move it?

Another lollipop appears.  A window pops up, “Use control, defeat error.”  Huh?  Lollipop flashes.  “What am I supposed to do?!”  Lollipop explodes, and a man wags his finger with the speech bubble, “I AM ERROR.”

“Ooooh, haha.  Is this supposed to be the guy from that old Zelda game?  I think his name was supposed to be Errol or something like that and the translators accidentally turned the last letter into an ‘r’.”

The game flashes back to the previous screen.  [Moves crosshair to lollipop.  Presses “Y.”]  A tree appears in its place, along with the speech bubble, “A winner is you!”

“Oh my God, that’s the ridiculous line from Pro Wrestling.  I completely forgot about that game.”  [Continues on.]  Chanting echoes, and ancient Gaelic glides across the screen.  [Targets the words.  Presses “Y.”]  “A winner is you!” speech bubble.

As the hooded figure journeys farther, there are more lollipops and oddly-timed chanting to zap.  Whenever an item escapes the crosshair (allowing the character to proceed down the path with the errors intact) the speech bubble appears, “I AM ERROR.”  When the crosshair destroys different errors within the game, “A winner is you!” flashes briefly and then disappears.

When the character reaches the end of the path, the screen shifts to display a huge orange-haired man in a pink shirt.  The tiny, cloaked figure looks up at the man, who says, “I am Bimmy.  You must defeat me to vanquish the evil of the errors and mistranslations enshrouding this game.  Good lock 七面鳥.”

After a long and difficult battle against Bimmy, Bimmy says, “This is just the first part of your journey.  Long and timely trroubless lay beforee you.”  Bimmy fades into the background, and a trophy appears with the message, “You’re winner!”

“Isn’t that the trophy from Big Rigs?  This is such a weird game.”

The screen is filled with bright, white words, “Conglaturation!!!  You have completed the first phase in vanquishing errors from the games of old.  As you continue on your expedition, each new stage will contain different enemies, depending on localization issues relevant to various regions of the world.  Each stage will describe a localization issue, and you will have to vanquish the issue relevant to the stage.  Some missed errors will cause your screen to freeze momentarily, and others cause death, depending on how significant the error is.  If it is a spelling or grammatical error, that you can get away with.  If it is a severe localization issue that wouldn’t allow the game to be released in a specific country, death will befall you.”


“Stage 1: A number of games were banned in Germany due to Nazi references.  In this stage, you must hunt all Nazi references and eliminate them.”  Throughout the level, any escaped Nazis and Nazi symbols cause death, and random English words appearing in German text blocks that aren’t caught fast enough cause the screen to freeze for an instant.

Other levels described countries that strongly censored violence, sex, even the marketing of energy drinks.  The Danish level described a law that decreed it impossible for EA Sports MMA to be released due to the integration of energy drink ads.  The most difficult level was the level for China.  The prohibition of skulls and skeletons was described, and many would fly across the screen all at once, with any escaped skull or skeleton causing death.  The end boss included items from each level and was ridiculously hard to beat.  The finale of the game showed the message, “Conglaturation!!!  You have completed a great game.  And prooved the justice of our culture.  Now go and rest our heroes!”

[Dials Jimmy.]  “You’re right.  That game was amazing!  I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the ending screen from Ghostbusters.  I feel like I really have prooved the justice of my culture!”


(Poem excerpt from beginning of story taken from “bho Cheum air Cheum,” a Scottish poem by Christopher Whyte.)

Translation Conferences May – December 2012

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It’s a job and a half finding all of the industry conferences and events happening around the world, so we made life easier for you by providing a comprehensive list of relevant translation conferences and locations/dates.  Also check out our earlier post with video game conferences and which ones we will be attending.

If there are any conferences we missed, please let us know @LanguageAutoInc.  We greatly appreciate and encourage feedback!

Sign up for our newsletter to receive monthly conference updates.  Enjoy!


Other Relevant Conferences

June 4-6, 2012 Localization World Conference & Exhibits at Le Palais des Congrès de Paris in Paris, France

June 22, 2012 Ludus: The Narrative of Games and the Art of Play at the University of London in New Cross, London


May 24-26, 2012 Art in Translation: International Conference on Language and the Arts at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík, Iceland

May 24-26, 2012 Translating Power, Empowering Translation in Tallinn, Estonia

May 30 – June 1, 2012 Translation in the 21st Century at Crowne Plaza Hotel République in Paris, France

May 30 – June 1, 2012 Translation, Texts, Media at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

May 31 – June 2, 2012 2nd International Conference on Law, Translation and Culture at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong

June 15-17, 2012 Translation Techniques in the Asiatic Cultures at the University of Rome in Sardinia, Italy

June 21-22, 2012 First International Conference on Research into the Didactics of Translation at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain

June 23-26, 2012 3rd International Conference Translation, Technology and Globalization in Multilingual Context at Institute Cervantes in New Delhi, India

July 24-27, 2012 International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies at Queen’s University Belfast in Belfast, Ireland

August 17-18, 2012 International Workshop on Expertise in Translation and Post-editing at Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark

August 18, 2012 IAPTI’s Second Conference on Professional Practices for Translators at La Casa del Médico in Buenos Aires, Argentina @iapti

September 4-8, 2012 Translation, Globalization and Place at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey

September 7-8, 2012 Cultural Translation and East Asia at Bangor University in UK

September 11, 2012 Mirrors of Translation Studies I – Translation as a Means of Communication at the University of Prešov in Prešov, Slovakia

September 28-30, 2012 Interpreting the Future – Translators and Interpreters: Experts for International Communication in Specialised Fields at Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany

October 4-5, 2012 The Future of Translation and Localisation TM-Europe 2012 in Warsaw, Poland

October 15-16, 2012 Translation Automation User Society at The EdgeWater Hotel in Seattle, Washington

October 18-19, 2012 Voices of Suspense and their Translation in Thrillers in Madrid, Spain

* Special topic about video games in the suspense genre

October 24-27, 2012 Annual Conference of the American Translators Association (ATA) at the Hilton San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California

October 25-28, 2012 Translation and Interpretation in the Age of Globalization: Looking Back and Looking Ahead in Cluj Napoca, Romania

November 21-23, 2012 Languages & the Media: Translating in Multilingual Communities at Hotel Berlin in Berlin, Germany

November 25-30, 2012 Translating and the Computer 34th Conference and Exhibition in London, UK

November 27-29, 2012 5th Asian Translation Traditions Conference at the American University of Sharjah in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

November 29-30, 2012 Translating and the Computer in London, UK @ASLIBInfo

December 12-14, 2012 Translating Figurative Language International Conference in Bologna, Italy

December 13-14, 2012 Theories & Realities in Translation & Writing in Antwerp, Belgium

Translation and Localization in World of Warcraft

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Ever wonder how translation works in a massive, constantly evolving game like World of Warcraft?  In The Game Localization Handbook by Heather Maxwell Chandler and Stephanie O’Malley Deming, the authors list tips specific to MMORPG’s (118):

-          Treating each patch as its own localization cycle

-          Ensuring proper communication between translators and the development team to avoid rewrites

-          Monitoring the progress of writers and translators/the QA team so original content is not developed too far ahead of the translation

-          Being wary of the inevitable fatigue of translators specializing on specific aspects of the MMO

WoW is available in ten languages via free language packs, including English, German, European and Latin American Spanish, French, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and Korean.  Blizzard announced in a press release this February that Italian will soon be added to the mix.  With each of these language additions, it follows that the website itself will get a makeover in its new language, and language-specific forums will open up for player communication.

WoW Addons

Due to my chronic (and rather impressive) ability to get lost no matter whether I’m in the virtual world or the real world, an addon showing objective locations on the map saved me countless hours of blindly wandering around the world of Azeroth.  (This was before the release of the patch that had this feature already integrated into the game.)

Addons are an inevitable aspect of MMO’s, providing useful tools for every imaginable part of the game such as buffs/debuffs, artwork, mail, mini-games, and chat/communication.  Since addons are created by the WoW community itself, WoWWiki provides a page called “Localizing an addon.”  In this page, WoWWiki warns users to “localize all text that would be localized by the client” (such as using the word “Frostbolt” in English and “Frostblitz” in German).  It also provides tips like avoiding the translation of item names by using their item id number.

Faction Language Barriers

Even members of the different sides in WoW are working to overcome their language barriers!  (Probably in an attempt to trash talk the opposing side.)  WoW contains characters of many races, each of which belong to Horde or Alliance factions.  When characters from different factions speak to each other, the result is a mess of incoherent, jumbled text.  The Phrasemaker and other tools were developed by the WoW community in an attempt to dispel these language barriers and subsequent myths, such as “Languages are perfectly reversible.  If I repeat the gibberish someone says to me back to them, it will make sense.”  According to The Phrasemaker myths, you’ll only be speaking more gibberish if this is attempted.


Translation and localization in WoW is unique in that it isn’t limited only to the translators at Blizzard: the WoW community works to develop its own translations for addons and even attempts to translate complete gibberish to speak between factions.