How a bad translation can really mess things up…

Most of us have probably heard (or personally experienced) stories about the confusion and misunderstandings resulting from the incorrect use of languages. Bad pronunciation or incorrect grammar construction can drastically alter content and meaning.


However, to be able to achieve our objectives through other languages, knowledge of this alone is not enough. We also need to understand the cultural idiosyncrasies underlying a specific language. Here we will provide an illustrative example, which may appeal to cinema lovers.


In his 2008 movie, Inglourious Basterds, director Quentin Tarantino magically illustrates this fundamental aspect of another language command (and its dangers). In the film,  in a small bar in occupied France, some American agents are undercover as members of the German SS and share a table with a Nazi high ranking officer. During the long scene, everything goes smoothly between the officer and the impostors, mostly thanks to their good command of the German language. Nevertheless, they are soon discovered, with dramatic consequences for all.


Why? Ignorance of the culture underlying the language. The character interpreted by Michael Fassbender (see the picture) asks for three beers stretching out the index, middle and ring fingers; in Germany they do that gesture with the middle, ring and little fingers. This was enough for the officer to discover their true identities.


At Lawlinguists, we ensure that our translators are not only practicing legal professionals but also that their mother tongue is the language they will be translating into, so that nothing is “lost in translation”.



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