10 Hilarious Translation Failures in Spanish (Would you have noticed?)
Parker Pens’ slogan “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” wrongly translated the word “embarrass” with a very similar looking word in Spanish. ¿Se te ocurre cuál? (Can you think of which one?) Embarazada (Pregnant). El resultado (The result): “It won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you”.
Esto es graciosísimo y pasa todo el tiempo cuando personas con poco conocimiento del español tratan de traducirlo. (This is so funny and it happens all the time when people with little knowledge of Spanish try to translate it.)
Yo soy Maura de Spring Spanish, and today we are looking at 7 of the funniest Spanish translation fails and what they should’ve done so this never happens to you!
1. Chevy Nova
General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America without paying any attention to Spanish whatsoever. ¿Cuál es el problema? (What’s the problem?) you ask. Déjame preguntarte a ti, ¿qué significa “no va” en español? (Let me ask you, what does “no va” mean in Spanish?)
- No: this is obviously a negation.
- Va: this comes from the verb ir (to go).
Put them together and you get: “no va” which translates to “won’t go”. Considerando que el producto es un carro (Considering that the product is a car), is there a worse thing to say about it than “it won’t go”?
En español, usamos “no va” de dos formas (In Spanish, we use “no va” in 2 ways):
To talk about machines that don’t work, so you get:
- No sé qué le pasa a la computadora, la enciendo y no va. (I don't know what's happening with the computer, I turn it on and it doesn't work.)
- La lavadora no va, así que tienes que conseguir una lavandería. (The washing machine doesn't work, so you have to find a laundromat.)
To literally say someone won’t go somewhere or won’t do something:
- Camila no va a la fiesta. (Camila is not going to the party.)
- El gato no va a salir del closet si lo sigues presionando. (The cat won't come out of the closet if you keep pushing him.)
I’m sure that if you’re learning Spanish, you’ve heard the expression “false friends”. En caso de que no, aquí tienes un ejemplo perfecto. (In case you haven’t, here you have a perfect example.)
On this “Exit Only” sign at a Starbucks you can read “exit” being translated as éxito (success). Ambas palabras, “exit” y “éxito”, se parecen mucho, así que debería ser correcto, ¿no? No. (Both words, “exit” and “éxito”, look very similar, so that should be correct, right? No.)
El resultado dice (The result reads): Éxito aquí (Success here) which might not be a bad thing to say, but in no way it conveys what it should have:
- Salida aquí (Exit here).
And, I would go a step further and say that a better translation would include a proposition:
- Salida por aquí (Exit through here). Conviene tener esto en cuenta. (It is convenient to keep this in mind.) Many, many times, Spanish needs a preposition when English doesn’t and vice-versa.
3. Laguardia Airport
I’m saving the most hilarious and slightly offensive one for last, so you better stick around for it.
Ni siquiera sé qué decir sobre este. (I don’t even know what to say about this one.) The La Guardia Airport team just seems to have given up mid way.
Tenían que traducir (They had to translate): Pet relief area. El resultado (The result):
Area de mascotas relief.
Tipo (Like), were they even trying? ¿Cómo hubieras traducido tú esto? (How would you have translated this?)
They actually stopped at the tricky word, which immediately tells me that whomever did this, either does not speak Spanish, or doesn’t speak fluent English. Aunque esto último parece menos probable. (Though the latter seems less likely.) Usually, “relief” would be translated as: alivio (relief). Now, if you use “alivio” in Spanish here, there’s no way we would know that means a bathroom. Incluso podríamos confundirlo con “un lugar donde pasear y jugar”. (We could even mistake that for “a place where they can walk and play”.)
En fin (Anyways), the right translation wasn’t literal. They should’ve said something like:
- Baño de mascotas (Bathroom for pets)
- Aseos para mascotas (Toilets for pets)
4. Pool sign
I absolutely love this one. Es un aviso de esos típicos que ves en las piscinas de ciertos sitios. (It is one of those typical signs that you see by the pools of certain places.) Todo, absolutamente todo, está mal traducido. (Everything, absolutely everything, is wrongly translated.) Tanto que el resultado no significa nada en español.(So much so that the result does not mean anything in Spanish.)
Originally in English they had: Please turn off showers when you are done.
El resultado (The result):
Por favor vuelta lejos chaparrones cuando usted es hecho.
This is a perfect example of poorly translating word for word. Let’s break this down, shall we?
- Please: por favor. They nailed this one. I’ll give them that.
- Turn off: apagar. They translated it as “vuelta”. Only “turn” by itself, without the “off”, could sometimes be translated as vuelta (turn). Por ejemplo (For example):
- Turn here: da vuelta aquí.
- Showers: duchas. Only in a very explicit weather related sentence you would translate “showers” as “chaparrones” as they did. Like:
- Heavy showers are expected to hit the northern hemisphere this spring: Esta primavera se prevén fuertes chaparrones en el hemisferio norte.
- When you: cuando usted. Fair enough. And lastly:
- Are done: termine. See why literal translations are dangerous? They translated “are done” as “esté hecho”.
The actual result should’ve been: Por favor apague las duchas cuando usted termine. (Please turn off showers when you are done.) Very, very far away from the gibberish they produced.
5. Got milk?
Remember this very famous tagline? Siempre pensé que traducir esto sería horrible. (I always thought translating this would be horrible.) I was right.
The literal translation of “got milk?” would be something like: ¿Tienes leche?
This either doesn’t make sense in Spanish without the context or means something very off like: “Are you lactating?”. And, in my very Venezuelan Spanish, it could even mean “***¿tuviste suerte?***” (were you lucky?) but in a very vulgar way.
Apparently, they caught it early enough and shifted the messaging in Spanish to something like: “Familia, amor y leche” (Family, love, and milk) Moraleja (Lesson): A veces las traducciones no funcionan y hay que inventar una idea totalmente nueva en el otro idioma. (Sometimes translations don’t work and you have to come up with an entirely new idea in the other language.)
6. Tag washing instructions
If the company that made the clothes doesn’t care enough to properly instruct you how to wash it, no creo que realmente importe (I don’t think it really matters).
Esto es lo que decían en inglés estas instrucciones que conseguí online (This is what these instructions I found online said in English): “Hand wash, do not bleach do not tumble cool iron”. Without enough commas or anything.
Here’s their very wrong Spanish translation: Mano se lava, no blaquear no caiga, hierro chulo.
Esto es muy similar al ejemplo del cartel de la piscina (This is very similar to the pool sign example.) It feels as if they went word for word with the translation. They didn’t miss out on making some comical mistakes, though.
Let’s break it down:
- Hand wash: lavar a mano would be the right translation. They used: mano se lava, which barely means anything. This is a good example of Spanish needing a preposition when English does not. ¿Recuerdas que lo comentamos? (Remember we commented on this?)
What they said literally translated “hand” for “mano” and “wash” for “se lava”. The correct translation also required to switch the word order which, again, ocurre mucho entre estos dos idiomas. (happens a lot between these 2 languages.)
- Do not bleach: no blanquear. This is fine. I might have said: no usar lejía. But, it’s fine.
- Do not tumble: no usar secadora. They said: no caiga (don’t fall), which is almost a good advice for people but it is a stupid thing to say about clothes. “Tumble” can be translated as “caer”, but only if it makes sense. As in:
- You could tumble, be careful: podrías caerte, ten cuidado.
- Cool iron: planchar en frío would be the right translation. This one is hilarious because it feels like they actually tried to use Spanish from Spain and ended up with: hierro chulo.
“Iron” means two things in Spanish: hierro y planchar. It’s obvious which one makes more sense here***.***
“Cool” can also mean two things***: frío*** and chulo, if you’re from Spain, or “chévere” if you’re Venezuelan like me.
The right result should read:
- Lavar a mano, no blanquear, no usar secadora, planchar en frío. (Hand wash, do not bleach do not tumble cool iron.)
Guardé el mejor para el final para tener tiempo de prepararme. (I saved the best for last so I would have time to prepare.) This one gets me every time.
Mazda has a minivan called “Laputa”. That’s it. If you know a little Spanish, I shouldn’t need to say anything else. But I will. En nombre de la enseñanza y en YouTube. (In the name of learning and on YouTube.)
“La” is a feminine article in Spanish. “Puta” means prostitute, if you’re being scholastic. La traducción exacta es más, digamos, violenta. (The exact translation is more, let’s say, violent.) Mazda couldn’t care less and described the “Laputa” minivan as something than can be translated as: Hemos diseñado Laputa para ofrecer la máxima utilidad en un espacio mínimo, a la vez que una experiencia de conducción suave y confortable. (We have designed Laputa to deliver maximum utility in a minimum space while providing a smooth and comfortable ride.)
I don’t know how this works but they really should have changed the name in the Spanish-speaking countries.