Meaning lost in electronic translation

There are a lot of electronic translators (“ET”) available on internet, which come into handy for a person who is learning a new language like myself. The subject of today’s post is to talk about how meaning is lost in electronic translation and how funny things happen as a result thereof.

I have a blog at, which is catered to the Mainland Chinese readers, although my posts there are mostly English. As I explained in my previous posts, the reason that I write two separate blogs, although their contents are basically the same, is because WordPress, among other international social medias such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and etc. is blocked in Mianland China.

As my blog at, like this blog, concerns learning of a new language, the levels of English skill of my readers there vary. Some are so good in English that you would have thought the writer were a native English speaker, but some only know a handful of English words. I think many of the latter set of readers rely on ET to help them read my blog.

I have a friend at my blog at named Judy, who commented that the English in my blog was so difficult that she had to use a Google Translate to help her. Nowadays Google translate is very popular. When you read an article in a computer in a language which is different from what is set in your computer, a lot of times, the Google Translate will pop up and asks you whether you want the page to be translated to a language of your choice. With a click of a button, no matter how long or how big the web document is, it can be translated in a second. With respect to Google, I think most ET suck, I advise my friend Judy the same. I further advised Judy not to rely on such device, otherwise it would give her more trouble than help her. Below are some of the examples to support my view about those ET.

Another friend at my blog at, Apple, one day left me the following message: Grand dad you too crossed modest. I could not figure out what she intended to say. Apple later explained that she intended to say “爷爷您十分谦虚“ or “Grand dad you are so modest”. I guessed Apple might have used one of those ET to help her. In Mainland China people called a person of old age as 爷爷,which literally means granddad, out of respect, like Premier Wen is being called 温爷爷 or “Granddad Wen”. In my case, I don’t mind being called 爷爷,but I am certainly not Apple’s grand dad, although age-wise I could be.

Another example I came across was that I was one time asked by a Mainland Chinese girl that why her foreign friend sent her a message on her cellular phone saying that 我小姐你 which literally means “I young lady you“. I was totally lost as to what she meant. Then she showed me the message which said “I miss you”. I think my readers can figure out what has gone wrong.

I am learning Spanish. Needless to say, I often times come across Spanish words or sentences which I do not understand. However, I try to avoid relying too much on ET to help me on translation save for a single word. In Spanish a lot of times object precedes the verb, which is different from English. For instance, in English it is “I love you” but in Spanish it is “Te quiero” or literally translated word by word as “you I love”. I have come across one of the ET which translated “Te quiero” as “you love I“. It is not unusual for ET, even the sophisticated ones, got the subject and object confused in translations from Spanish to English or vice versa. You can imagine what kind of troubles or jokes sometimes would cause in such mix-ups.

Another case in point is that at one time a foreign learning partner told me over the internet in Chinese that 我家下血, which literally means my home is bleeding. That scares me to death. However, I later found out he intended to mean his town is snowing 我家下雪. In pinyin typing there is no difference between the two sentences, both are wo jia xia xue. My friend explained to me that he used one of those ET to translate the English text into pinyin and the result came out entirely different from what he intended to say.

In conclusion as I said in the beginning, ET are handy tools which help you understand what is written in a foreign language, but one has to take the translations therefrom with a grain of salt. An effect of an mis-translation, the least of which, is to cause a joke, but if it is more serious it can cause you trouble.

Hong Kong at night (unrelated to the subject)

HK harbour night

Hong Kong harbour night

Wanchai bus station at night

Wanchai bus station at night



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