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The 2012 Olympics have come and gone leaving the Brits with the bill for roughly £9.3 billion. Yes, you read that right – billion, with a « b ». The original estimate was just over £2 billion but had to be increased due to added security and venues.
With 200 countries represented and  180 languages being spoken, one of the necessary costs for the Olympics was translation both printed and spoken. On the print side, documents, signage and many other mediums had to be localized so that athletes the world over could find the bathroom, be warned about a security threat, or even order at McDonalds (FYI: the world’s largest McDonalds was built inside Olympic village for athletes only).

Arabic seemed to be the most butchered language in this year’s games. Companies were relying on computer-based translation and had suppliers swap fonts at the last minute, which made the statements baffling and sometimes impossible to understand. Signs that asked train passengers not to leave their baggage unattended were illegible and welcome signs at the official Olympic shopping center were written backwards and improperly spaced in Arabic. The English version of this would be:
“N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W.” Who proofed this? Anyone?

In a related incident where quality assurance was severely lacking, the North Korean women’s soccer team was briefly featured in a video with a South Korean flag. The team refused to play until it was fixed and the organizers apologized. Considering the history and tense relations between these two countries it would seem important never to make that mistake.

Whether it was down to human blunder or computer error, these incidents highlight the importance of expert translation and quality assurance, especially in such a high-profile international event.  Thankfully, these were isolated accidents and without the vast sum of money spent on translators, interpreters and localization,  it could have been much worse. It goes to show how it pays to invest time, money and tools into ensuring language and symbols are used correctly, because mistakes, no matter how small, can mean the difference between welcoming and honoring people, or insulting them deeply.

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