People are increasingly turning to machine translation software to translate text into different languages, for many different purposes. As a translator, I don’t necessarily welcome this trend. As far as I am concerned, a computer programme cannot replace a human being. I would hope that anyone needing a professional translation would call upon a reputable translation company for their services, but what about those looking for something less formal, for example song lyrics? I remember when I was a student of Spanish I would spend hours painstakingly translating my favourite Spanish songs’ lyrics into English. Back then, these online translation tools didn’t exist, but would I have fared any better if they had? I decided to test Yahoo!’s Babel Fish programme, with, let’s say, interesting results…

Do you recognise this song title? It has been translated from English into Italian and back again.

“Happy you have come”

(Here are a couple of clues: it’s at the top of the UK charts right now, and the photo below shows the group that sing it)

If you’ve guessed correctly, you can see that this example of being ‘lost in translation’ could easily happen (‘happy’ is a synonym of ‘glad’ and ‘have come’ is the present perfect tense compared to the past simple tense of the original – Italian verb tenses are categorised a little differently). But how will you do with some other, more obscure examples?

Can you guess the Beatles tune, translated via Portuguese?

“Track of the currency of a cent”

How about this classic Aretha Franklin song, translated via Dutch?

“Collar of scatterbrains”

Let us know if you crack these codes… Answers will be posted next week, along with some new song titles to bamboozle you.

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