Like a number of other fortunate Canadians, I managed a week-long winter escape recently at a beautiful resort in Cuba. It was outstanding. The five star resort my husband and I stayed at was magnificent. The weather was wonderful and the beach appeared almost computer generated in its perfection. Cuba is trying very hard to appeal to North American and European visitors as tourism is a staple industry in the country. The one area where the resort fell short was in its written English documentation and instructional brochures. There were several humourous typos and mistranslated instructions that made them unclear.
It made me wonder how important perfect translation is when travelling in a foreign country. After all, it is a Spanish speaking nation and the fact that virtually all resort staff spoke English, French and Italian left me constantly amazed. How much more should a traveller ask for?
I was able to figure out that “cuked ham” on the menu was “cooked ham” and that “dards” and “boke tours” (listed as “byke” elsewhere) listed on the activities roster really referred to “darts” and “bike tours”. Instructions for towel service were a little harder to decipher. “Beach towels are delivered in our Club Info. Compensation should be paid in case you lose your towels.” “Club Info.” was a bit of a misnomer as it was a towel stand near the pool. I also thought that I’d have to pay a deposit up front in case I didn’t return the towel but what they really meant was that if I didn’t return the towel, my room would be charged $15.
I overheard a few other tourists laughing at the translations on various occasions and it made me feel a bit defensive on behalf of our host country. They tried, and succeeded, on so many other levels to make the resort a luxury experience based on North American standards—cut them some slack.
It reminded me, however, of a news story I heard about the upcoming Beijing Olympics and how China is making every effort to ban Chinglish. China, of course, is legendary for poor English translation that often results in hilarious signage and instructions. Officials see Chinglish as an embarrassment at a time when the country wants to put its best face forward. It has gone as far as setting up Chinglish reporting hotlines in an effort to stamp out bad translations once and for all.
The bottom line is, no one wants to be ridiculed—no matter how good natured the ribbing is. In an age with few technological barriers, it should be easy to secure good translation and copywriting services regardless of language and location. It does leave the impression of “less then perfect” and in a very competitive tourism industry, that’s an edge you don’t want to lose.
What do you think? Should resorts and other services catering to visitors that don’t speak the local language be criticized for faulty translation and bad copywriting?
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