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Costly Translation Errors to the Tune of $327.6 Million bY Japanese Translation Agency

That’s in 1999 dollars, so we need to factor in inflation to get present day dollars. Or, maybe deflation, given the state of the global economy!

Translation Agency Japan, Tokyo - Costly translation bloopers

Before we jump into the specifics, let me just say right off the bat that I have no intention of raining on NASA’s parade -- Their engineers really proved they have the right stuff in landing Curiosity in Gale crater, only 1.5 kilometers from the target landing site after a 566 million kilometer flight! That’s pretty awesome no matter how you call it.

However, NASA has had its share of failures as witnessed by the Mars Climate Orbiter launched to the Red Planet on December 11, 1998 and reported lost on September 23, 1999. So, how was the Mars Climate Orbiter lost to a translation error?

Correction: Curiosity was 1.5 miles off target, about 2.4 kilometers.

An investigation revealed that one team on the project used English, or imperial, units (e.g., inches, feet and pounds) while another used metric units for information critical to put the spacecraft in the proper orbit around Mars. As a result, the Mars Climate Orbiter entered the Martian atmosphere at an incorrect angle causing it to disintegrate.

In industry parlance, the conversion of data (units) for a specific locale is referred to as localization (localisation), which is a subset of the larger translation process.

If you believe you have the best translation blooper ever, then share it! Let our readers put it to the vote to find out if you really have the best translation error of all time! Simply contact us with the details, and we’ll post your blooper on our &DISCUSS translation blog.

About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, the owner of Japan, Tokyo based Japanese Translation Agency Visit SAECULII for the latest professional articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

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4 &DISCUSS response(s)

  • 1 » Akiko Akiya (2012-08-14)

    Wow, that's some serious money for a translation snafu! I'm guessing some heads rolled...
  • 2 » Mayuko N (2012-08-31)

    This article should be in a textbook for anyone training to become a professional translator. Kind of good motivation for all the translators who constantly work in front of computers and never get to actually see how they contribute to the success, or failure, of big projects. You can bet they would definitely be extra careful...LOL
  • 3 » Akiko Akiya (2012-09-04)

    Yes, this article tells me there is significant value to double-check one's work before turning it in! Of course, even the most accomplished professionals are prone to human errors. That's the reason why professional translation & localization has a system of checks and balances to ensure these "slip of the eye" errors are caught before they become costly translation errors.
  • 4 » Shoko M (2012-09-18)

    You think NASA owes the success of the Curiosity landing to good translation/localization?