IB Notes: When Google Translate doesn’t translate

In this week’s International Business (GEB3373) discussions, we’ll look at cultural misunderstandings (including some hilarious ones on pages 67 and 68) that arise from lousy translations. People today should learn from these mistakes. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, they don’t.

A recent humorous example occurred when American baseball clubs lined up to sign Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who had dominated Japanese baseball last year with a 24-0 record and a 1.27 earned run average. (For converged communicators who don’t follow baseball, just think of that as really, really good.) As SBNation’s Noah Jarosh reported (http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/sbnation/SBNation_20140121_Masahiro_Tanaka__The_art_of_mistranslation.html), rabid American fans noticed a Tweet on Tanaka’s Twitter account and wanted to know what it meant. They ran it through the automated Google Translate software, which produced a plausible – but wrong – translation.

From there, a frenzy erupted as fans speculated about which team Tanaka had chosen. It turns out he hadn’t even made up his mind yet.

The whole episode illustrates the perils of relying too much on Google Translate (or similar automated translation services) to bridge the gap between languages. There’s no substitute for knowing the language yourself – or finding somebody else who does. And making assumptions based on an automated translation can be a recipe for disaster.

And, for those who were wondering, Tanaka ultimately signed with the deep-pocketed New York Yankees for $155 million. Google’s online currency converter says that’s almost 16 billion yen. Any way you slice it, it’s a lot of cash.

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