Are your bilingual employees qualified to interpret or to translate your documents?

Being an English speaker doesn’t automatically make someone a professional writer. Similarly, being bilingual doesn’t mean a person has the skills and training necessary to translate documents accurately. When it comes to legal or medical content, even a minimal error can have serious consequences.


How much can you rely on Google Translate?

The story of Mexican native Omar Cruz-Zamora is a well-known case that illustrates the impact of misunderstandings caused by improper translations. He was stopped by police while driving in Kansas. Due to his limited English skills, he was not able to carry on a proper conversation. The officers didn’t speak any Spanish, so they turned to Google Translate for help. Based on the resulting dialogue, Mr. Cruz-Zamora allowed the officers to search his car when he wasn’t legally required to do so.


During the search, the officers found 14 pounds of cocaine and methamphetamines in Mr. Cruz-Zamora’s vehicle. However, when the case went to court, Mr. Cruz asked the judge to suppress any evidence from the search. He claimed that, as the video and audio recorded during the encounter showed, he was clearly struggling to understand the Google App translation provided by the officers. Therefore, he couldn’t have knowingly consented to the search.

The judge granted the motion to suppress the evidence and the case was dismissed. When the words “may we search your car” are typed into Google Translate, the resulting translation is “podemos buscar su coche” which translates as “may we ‘find’ your car”, not may we “search” your car. The officers probably should have requested the assistance of a qualified phone interpreting service.


Just one wrong word can make a difference

Using Google Translate might be an extreme example of what to avoid. Nevertheless, using someone with fair language skills but who lacks the extensive professional trained translators and interpreters go through, may still get someone in trouble. Many words, known as “false friends” can be easily mistranslated.

Such was the case of Cuban-Spanish young sports star Willie Ramirez. When he was taken to the ER in Florida, his parents mentioned he was “intoxicado”, which was wrongly interpreted as “intoxicated”. Intoxicado in Spanish means that someone ingested something dangerous such as bad food, but not necessarily a chemical. This led doctors to treat the case as a drug overdose. The real reason of his illness was a blood clot in his brain which caused permanent paraplegia. Because of the initial misunderstanding, the doctors failed to provide Mr. Ramirez with the urgent care he needed. Eventually, his parents settled his medical malpractice claim for $71 million.


These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many documented failures and their regrettable effects due to incorrect translations or interpretations in the legal and medical fields.

Targem Translations provides translation and interpretation services by certified native professionals. Contact us today to discuss your needs.

2024-07-01T23:51:11+00:00 June 14th, 2024|0 Comments

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