Croatian Institute of Public Health Issues Coronavirus Advice in English and Fails

Lauren Simmonds

March the 6th, 2020 – The Croatian Institute of Public Health, which is responsible for informing people about the current situation with coronavirus and how you can prevent the spread of the virus, has attempted addressing the masses in English. Now the subject of mockery among translators – it hasn’t gone down too well.

Ever since I did the Lost in Translation series, (which you can read here, here, here, here, here… and there are probably more), I’ve been on the lookout for more linguistic gems. I’m a translator by profession and nothing irritates me more than Google Translate failures (although I’m told it has improved somewhat) and those who simply feel that there is absolutely no need for qualified translators, and that Mr. Google or Zdenka’s cousin who lives in Dublin can do the job without fail.

In my industry, you tend to hear one or several of a seemingly automated selection of responses when contacted by a would-be employer. Here they are:

1.) We have had some offers, but they’ve all been ”too expensive”, so we want to find someone who is ”more within our price range”. 

What this means is that they have contacted translators who have given them perfectly normal prices based on their request and a proper and fair calculation, but since the client has no idea of the ins and outs of translation, they’ve deemed it too expensive because translation is just something people ”can do” – right? Wrong. This is usually followed by them trying to get you to lower your price.

2.) We hired —- who offered to do the job at a discount price but our client wasn’t happy and wants it to be done again.

What this means is that they paid ridiculously low rates to someone’s friend’s cousin’s former roommate based on the fact that they can speak a little English and their uncle once lived in America. The translation makes zero sense and only when they’ve paid dearly do they realise the importance of a native speaker with qualifications.

3.) Can you do the work and have it finished by the end of the day/other impossibly short time period?

What this means is that they have zero idea about what is involved in translation and want you to complete it as soon as possible while they take their time paying you and make all the excuses under the sun along the way because they a) have no idea what translation actually implies and b) because they lack respect for you and/or your profession – possibly a mixture of the two.

The above ”automated responses” are very common in Croatia and every translator will have come face to face with them at some point or another during their careers. Now and again, you get a large, reputable company who has no issue with your price, your agreed deadline, writing you a legal contract, signing it and actually paying you properly. 

One such company, or institution rather, that you’d expect to hire a competent translator and make absolutely sure that the translation is 100% correct before turning it into a sign is the Croatian Institute of Public Health. 

With the outbreak of coronavirus, or COVID-19, institutions across the globe are working to accurately inform the public of preventative measures they can take to lower their chances of contracting the virus or passing it to others. It’s also necessary to inform people just what COVID-19 is, and when to worry and of course when not to.

A friend of mine who shares my love of translation fails sent me this today, and I must say that while the translation isn’t terrible by any means, it’s just a little bit embarrassing and shameful for the Croatian Institute of Public Health, which needs to be on the ball as a virus that has never before been observed in humans spreads across the globe and as more cases are confirmed here in Croatia.

My first question is just how one can cover their mouth with their elbow? I’ve tried several times, either I’m awfully inflexible or this simply isn’t something a person would instinctively do, ever.

Avoid handling, you say? Handling what exactly? I am inclined to think this means that you should avoid rukovanje (the shaking of hands), which would imply ”close conversation”.

”Kipping” rooms ventilated is definitely essential and doesn’t always sit very well with Croats who are terrified of the dreaded propuh (draught), owing to the belief that it actually causes one to become sick, when in many cases it’s the complete opposite. Regardless of propuh, if you want to avoid coronavirus, then kip that room ventilated. 

Avoid larger ”group” of people? Just the one group, then.

This isn’t the world’s worst translation by any means and I’ve seen a lot worse, but come on.

It’s one thing when a pub or a bar or some other small, private business makes a little, amusing error, but the Croatian Institute of Public Health has more than enough funds available to it to hire a translator and a proof reader to make sure a very short and simple translation such as this one, about something that is so important, goes out and is placed on signs and official websites smoothly.

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