President Shithole: (Mis)Adventures in Machine Translation

I’ve written many times that friends don’t let friends use Google Translate (most recently, It’s a shame to dry the fruit with old uncles). I readily admit, however, that at times it comes in handy – as in this love story between an American journalist and a French UN Peacekeeper, as well as a multitude of other informal needs.

Google Translate is often used these days as a generic term for machine translation (MT), like “Coke” for a soft drink in the Southern US or “Kleenex” for facial tissues. So when we warn people about the challenges of Google Translate, that warning extends to all machine translation. Machine translation, though increasingly sophisticated, does not understand cultural nuance, humor and other subtleties, so when used, it’s essential to include a human editing step (known as PMTE, post machine translation editing or PEMT, post-editing machine translation) to ensure accuracy, style and flow. And nuance aside, sometimes it just gets things wrong.

When accuracy and nuance are important, nothing can replace an experienced human translator and editor. And in the political realm, nuance is everything – so imagine the reaction when Facebook’s machine translation engine translated China’s leader Xi Jinping’s name as “Mr. Shithole” from Burmese to English. Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s Facebook page published a statement about the visit that when translated to English read “Dinner honors president shithole”.

Facebook's machine translation engine translated China's leader Xi Jinping’s name as “Mr. Shithole” from Burmese to English
Facebook’s machine translation engine translated China’s leader Xi Jinping’s name as “Mr. Shithole” from Burmese to English.

Facebook issued an apology after the error was discovered, and the mistake was corrected – though a mistake like this can quickly overshadow everything.

“We have fixed an issue regarding Burmese to English translations on Facebook and are working to identify the cause to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. This issue is not a reflection of the way our products should work and we sincerely apologize for the offense this has caused.”

In a Facebook message between friends, an MT mistake is no big deal. When using MT informally or for internal purposes, it’s OK if things aren’t 100% accurate. On the world stage, however, a blunder like this can have a tremendous impact. And in your marketing materials or product safety information, it’s just too risky to hand over your voice, your brand and your clients’ trust to the machines.

When it matters, humans make all the difference – so talk to us about how we leverage the best of humans and industry technology to ensure that you’re never the butt (no pun intended) of the joke.

Elizabeth Dumitrescu: Leading Your Team Remotely

April 6, 2020

At Multilingual Connections, each team member brings their unique perspective and experience to the table  – both professionally and personally. This month we would like to introduce Elizabeth Dumitrescu, a Team Lead at Multilingual Connections. Liz joined the MLC team as a project manager and has worked on hundreds of accounts over the last 5 …

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Multilingual Connections Celebrates Its 15th Anniversary

March 24, 2020

EVANSTON, IL (March 24, 2020) – Multilingual Connections, a leading global language solutions company in the Chicago area that provides professional translation, transcription and multimedia localization services, announced its 15th anniversary. 

Silver Linings in Times of Coronavirus

March 20, 2020

Twenty years ago, as I was pursuing my doctorate in linguistic anthropology, I spent a year doing research in Israel among speakers of Judeo-Spanish. As part of my research, once a week I would travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, where I would visit with elderly Greek Holocaust survivors – all native speakers of the …

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Creating Authentic Connections with Your Audience

March 14, 2020

With conferences and networking events canceled this spring, I’ll miss chatting with folks about creating meaningful connections with their global audiences. And now, as businesses everywhere are trying to figure out how to work in an increasingly online world, creating those connections is essential – whether you’re doing international research or trying to connect with …

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“Translation is About Bridging the Gap”

March 5, 2020

Multilingual Connections works with hundreds of talented linguists across the globe who are experts at translation, transcription, subtitling and more. Linguistic accuracy and cultural relevance for translation often require our linguists to do extra research to better understand the full context of the source text. To reward the linguists who go above and beyond, we …

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Mark Bishop: Leading With Values

February 20, 2020

At Multilingual Connections, it’s our team that makes us the company we are today. Each team member brings their unique perspective and expertise – both professional and personal. This month we’re celebrating the fourth anniversary of our Chief Operating Officer, Mark Bishop. Mark joined Multilingual Connections after a 20-year career in nonprofit management. As the …

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How Love is Celebrated Around the World

February 14, 2020

It’s Valentine’s Day here in the U.S., which means it’s time to shower our loved ones with heart-shaped cards and chocolates to show them how much we love them. For many, we have become so accustomed to these acts of love on Valentine’s Day that they have now become part of American culture. But as …

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Translation is a Balancing Act

January 31, 2020

At Multilingual Connections, we leverage our linguists’ talents and expertise and pair each project with the best linguist for the job, taking into consideration their native language, region, and area(s) of expertise. Linguistic accuracy and cultural relevance for translation often require our linguists to do extra research to better understand the full context of the …

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Going the Extra Mile in Work and Life

January 2, 2020

At Multilingual Connections, we leverage our linguists’ talents and expertise and pair each project with the best linguist for the job, taking into consideration their native language, region, and area(s) of expertise. Linguistic accuracy and cultural relevance for translation often require our linguists to do extra research to better understand the full context of the …

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Engaging Our Global Team Part I: White Elephant Gift Exchange

December 18, 2019

Multilingual Connections is dedicated to helping our clients create meaningful connections with their global audience. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about what this mission means for us as a company – and wondering how we can more effectively apply that mission internally.  

Our Clients

Your Success is Our Success

We succeed when we help you understand, engage and grow your audience – and accomplish your business goals.

Relationships, Not Just Transactions

Sometimes you’re going to want to pick up the phone with questions, schedule a video chat or meet in person, and we welcome it!

Let us be your trusted partner

We believe in building long-term partnerships and finding the right solutions for your needs. We value our clients as partners and appreciate the trust they place in us.

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Office Location

Multilingual Connections
847 Chicago Ave Ste 250
Evanston, IL 60202, USA

Tel: +1-877-292-5264
Tel: +1-773-292-5500
Email: contact@mlconnections.com

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