The top 6 worst translation mistakes in history

Read this article to know the worst translation mistakes ever. Translating is one of the most important tasks when we talk about successfully conveying a message. Although many people think translation is an easy task, this is far from the truth.
Rodrigo Demetrio
2 min

Translating is one of the most important tasks when we talk about successfully conveying a message. Although many people think translation is an easy task, this is far from the truth. Read this article to know the worst translation mistakes ever.

Translating requires expertise and professionalism from the people involved. When this does not happen, many mistakes can occur. Below you will find the worst translation mistakes made throughout history - and how to avoid them!

1. That time when Nikita Khrushchev interpreter almost started WW III

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev almost started World War III after a mistranslation in 1956. At a reception at the Polish Embassy in Moscow, the politician was interpreted as saying “We will bury you” to the guests, many of whom were ambassadors from western countries.

Needless to say, the repercussion of his speech was catastrophic not only at the event, but also in the press afterwards. His entire phrase - translated as “If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations and don’t invite us to come see you.

Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you” - plastered across newspapers around the world, with many Americans considering it as a threat to their country. However, taken in context, his words were more likely directed to the capitalist system than to a specific country. Some translators suggest that his statement would be better translated as “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in” - which significantly takes down the threatening part of the speech.

Others defend that he used a common Russian phrase “We will be present when you are buried,” which essentially means, “We will outlast you.”Over the years, Khrushchev issued many explanations for his words. In 1959, while at the National Press Club in Washington, he said: “The words ‘We will bury capitalism’ should not be taken literally, as is done by ordinary gravediggers who carry a spade and dig graves and bury the dead. What I had in mind was the outlook for the development of human society. Socialism will inevitably succeed capitalism”.

2. When Jimmy Carter suffered from a series of translation mistakes in Poland

U.S. President Jimmy Carter was not immune to mistranslations. One of the most famous cases of mistranslations that happened with the politician was when he traveled to Poland in 1977 for a news conference.

That is because, according to his interpreter, he had sexual desire for the soviet country. As you can guess, those were not his exact words. What happened was that the professional responsible for translating Carter’s lines mangled his words. Hence, he used Russian terms and abused the Polish language. This led to a number of translation mistakes, such as when the desire of the U.S. President to “come to learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future” turned into an erotic desire to “get to know the Poles carnally”.

Another example of the translation mistakes done at the event was the phrase “I left the United States this morning” said by Carter, that was turned into “I left the United States, never to return” by the interpreter. After those unfortunate mistakes, another interpreter was chosen to translate Jimmy Carter’s words - which did not improve the situation. Due to Carter’s southern accent, the translator remained silent for most of his speech.

3. When Justin Trudeau speech at the White House was mistakenly translated

History’s biggest translation fails are not all from the great past. Justin Trudeau 2016 speech at the White House is a great example that politicians of all times can suffer from a bad translation. Americans who watched Trudeau speech on ABC TV saw him praising on “Nazi innings”, “railroad stations in Motorola” and talking about “us old guys”. But did he actually say that?Of course not. According to ABC, the mistakes were made by a computer program that automatically translated his words from French to English. Since it was a machine and not the person behind the translation, the computer was not able to understand the context of the speech nor Trudeau’s accent.

4. The “Do Nothing” HSBC Slogan

Not only politicians can suffer from bad translation cases. The HSBC Bank slogan was translated worldwide from “Assume Nothing” to “Do Nothing”. Since then, the company spent millions of dollars in an attempt to rebrand itself. Afterwards, they used the tagline “The world's private bank”, leaving no room for other translation mistakes.

5. Another time when Jimmy Carter suffered with translation mistakes

Back in 1981, when the U.S. President Jimmy Carter was visiting Japan, he was mesmerized at the laughs he received when telling his opening anecdote at a small Methodist college in the country. Surprised by the audience response, Carter asked his translator to explain how he managed to achieve such a reaction. The answer was simple: the interpreter reluctantly revealed his exact words to the public were, “President Carter told a funny story. Everyone must laugh”.

6. When a poor translation may have caused the first atomic bombing in the world

This is probably the most infamous case of an ill translation that caused serious consequences to the history of the world. At the verge of winning World War II, the then-called Allies sent a different number of terms about Japan’s surrender. When the press asked Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuk about such terms, he responded with the word “Mokusatsu”. “Mokusatsu” can mean either “no comments” or “a treat with silent contempt”. While most Japanese translators chose the first option of translation, which was not the meaning chosen by international news agencies. This was received as a threat to the country’s surrender. Thus, it may have influenced the U.S. decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Companies can also make translation mistakes

Professionals are not always the ones to blame after an ill-chosen translation. That is because translating is a really complex matter that involves not only proficiency in both languages.

1. When Facebook celebrated an earthquake

After a deadly earthquake happened in Indonesia back in 2018, many people used social media to talk about their status. Surprisingly, many were astonished by the fact that Facebook had added balloons and confetti to some of those posts. The cause of this misunderstanding was the usage of the Indonesian word “selamat”, that means “to survive”, “be safe” or “congratulations”. Facebook algorithm misinterpreted the context of the comments, thus adding festive animations of balloons and confetti.Afterwards, Facebook’s Spokesperson clarified the situation stating that the company “regrets that it appeared in this unfortunate context”.

2. Netflix

The biggest streaming platform can also be in the eye of a translation controversy. This happened this year after the release of the Korean show Squid Games. After the success following the show’s premiere, many Korean speaking people have been talking about subtle translation mistakes in Squid Games’ English subtitles. In most parts, the translations do not take Korea’s social and economic context in place when trying to convey the characters’ lines.

How to avoid translation mistakes

While common, translation mistakes can cause huge damage depending on the context in which it happens. That is why it is particularly important for a professional translator to ensure the quality of their work.Bureau Works is a tech-enable platform that connects professional translators and clients. Through technology, we ensure quality to a wide range of clients in different areas. You can take a look at our solutions here.Website translation, software localization, and product localization are great options to expand the market of people who run a business and aim to reach more clients. Translators can also count on TMS, which is great for optimizing their work. However, a detailed human review is essential for a good result, as our intelligence is irreplaceable.

Collaborative translation is a powerful tool for your business if you’re looking to expand to new global markets. By coordinating a team of professionals who work together in real-time, you can quickly deliver high quality translations that resonate with local audiences.

But what if you don't know how to synchronize a large team's efforts? Or are you‌ struggling to find the right software for a well-coordinated translation process? Well, look no further! In this guide, you'll learn all the know-how's of collaborative translation to bring your brand to global audiences.


  1. What is collaborative translation?
  2. Why seamless translation collaboration is important
  3. Best practices for collaborative translation and global market success

What is collaborative translation?

Collaborative translation is when multiple people simultaneously work together to translate content. A collaborative translation process often makes use of specialized tools and software to make sure the translation is quick, accurate, and consistent.

  • Example: Let's say you're a B2B SaaS company looking to translate your marketing materials into a new language to connect with potential clients abroad. Use collaborative translation to bring together translators, developers, and other specialists to translate content into many languages at once.

Your team can use a collaborative translation platform like Redokun to work on projects simultaneously. A coordinated workflow will make sure that your translations use the same terminology and style, improving the quality of the translated product for your target audiences.

Collaborative Translation vs. Crowdsourcing

People often confuse collaborative translation with crowdsourcing and think the two are the same. However, these approaches to translation are different.

Crowdsourcing is when a large group of people contributes translations, often through an open call or invitation by a company or author. Brands can turn to crowdsourcing, community translation, or volunteer translation when they are looking to reduce costs and accelerate the process, especially for large multi-language projects.

In crowdsourced translations, the contributors can be volunteer translators, subject matter experts, or just anonymous individuals online. In other words, you may not know who's worked on the translation and what their qualifications are. It makes crowdsourcing distinct from collaborative translation, where the team would be an established group of professionals you've selected

Why seamless translation collaboration is important

As a busy B2B/B2C marketing manager or project manager, you might ask yourself: Isn't the "divide and conquer" a better strategy when working on a translation or localization project? It seems logical that each project team member, including translators, designers, and editors, works on their tasks separately and step by step.

However, collaborative translation can help your team reap many benefits compared to a traditional approach to translation projects:

Reasons why seamless translation collaboration is important
  • Produce high-quality translations consistently. When your whole team works on a translation project simultaneously on one platform, it's easier to stay in context and keep track of the translation accuracy for every target language. On top of that, your team can conduct agile QA throughout the project cycle.
  • Faster turnaround times. By working together, your team can complete projects faster and more efficiently. Centralization saves a lot of time at every stage of translation. And since your team can work on more than one translation at a time, you can publish your translated content in several new markets at once.
  • Reduced costs. You get to improve efficiency while working with a smaller team of translators. The smaller and more coordinated the team, the less the risk of costly translation errors. It means reduced translation costs and better project budget compliance.
  • Increased flexibility. Collaborative translation allows your team to produce translations into many languages at once and easily make changes to any project document. You can conveniently engage in a feedback loop and guarantee a continuous localization process.
  • Better communication. Collaborative translation effectively brings all members of your localization team together on one platform. It helps you make sure that everyone is working toward the same goals ‌and simplifies overall localization management.

Six best practices for collaborative translation and global market success

To be great at collaborative translation, you need to approach it strategically. Even if you've never used this approach before, you can follow the six steps below to build an efficient collaborative translation workflow. And if you're already familiar with this method, these practices will help you improve the way you collaborate on any translation projects.

Six best practices for collaborative translation for your global business success

1. Work out a detailed project plan

Before you start working on translations together, you need a clear-cut project plan. You should first identify the following items.

  • Project timeline: Define crucial deadlines, project milestones, and the overall project duration.
  • Translation volume and key deliverables: Calculate the general word count, and determine the workload for every language pair if you translate into multiple languages.
  • Project budget: Keep in mind possible added and hidden translation costs.
  • Project team: Define what kind of specialists you need: translators, editors, proofreaders, etc. Will you need to find external translators? Consider all your HR needs in advance.
  • Your approach to the translation process: How much do you want to rely on machine translation? At what point will you edit translated strings? Answer all these questions before you go on.
  • Quality assurance protocol: Establish an efficient QA procedure for all the language pairs you're working on.

It may sound like a handful but the more detailed the plan, the more streamlined the translations will be down the road. Besides, you can already use Redokun to boost this stage of the localization process!

Redokun is a translation management system you can use to automate, coordinate, and optimize your translation processes from content creation to publication.

Redokun simplifies your project planning. In particular, you can use the tool to:

  • Monitor your ongoing translations easily. Keep track of all of your translation files and projects across multiple languages in one space, and check their progress at a glance.
Redokun Document Detail Page
  • Meet deadlines with digest emails. Redokun will send you daily or weekly email digests to update you on the progress of translations. From there, you can initiate one-click reminders to your translators who are potentially falling behind schedule.
  • Making budget planning easier. Redokun has a transparent, scalable pricing structure that will cover exactly the volume of work your project needs.
Redokun is an easy-to-use tool that requires no onboarding. Your team can start using all the system’s features right away. During your project planning stage, you won’t need to factor in a lengthy training period to introduce team members to the tool.

2. Divide tasks and assign responsibilities the smart way

Good collaboration is impossible without a well-planned distribution and organization of roles and tasks. Ensure that every team member is on the same page and understands their respective responsibilities.

For example, the project managers should divide ‌translation tasks among translation team members according to their language proficiency, area of expertise, or subject matter knowledge.
  • On Redokun, you can invite translators to work on different language pairs and content types depending on their skills. All you need to do is enter the translator's email. The software will send them an email invitation and let you know once they've started translating the file.
  • You can also invite several translators to work on one document.
How to invite translators to Redokun

To maximize the efficiency of project management and task division, establish a clear structure of your workflow. Make sure all your pages, files, and folders are well organized and team members know where to find necessary resources for their respective tasks. A centralized, cloud-based storage for all your documents is a must.

  • Redokun is a cloud-based software that makes file management easy. You can create folders and customize permission settings for multiple users for better organization. No more need to look for spreadsheets and lost documents scattered around different digital locations.
  • Don't forget to make the most of the Reporting Dashboard. It shows you the status of the translation project and helps you see how users distribute tasks (for example, what methods they use to translate different content segments).
Redokun Dashboard with translation statistics

3. Enhance the collaborative translation process with clear communication

It's important to have open communication channels among all team members in your translation project, including internal and external translators. For a successful collaboration effort, you need a shared communication space to:

  • Conduct regular check-ins.
  • Discuss translation options and other aspects of the working process.
  • Update and adjust requirements and guidelines.
  • Maintain feedback loops.
It's up to you to choose between email, messengers, or tools like Google Drive or Slack to keep your collboarative operations flowing. However, using multiple channels for different aspects of the project can get messy. It's harder to manage your team and make sure all collaborators are up to date on the ongoing translation tasks.

You can avoid these potential problems by centralizing all your communications and project management. With translation software like Redokun, you can manage, translate, communicate, and collaborate — all in one place.

  • Translate content in context. Your translators or editors can use page previews in Web Editor to understand the context of the text while working on it.
  • Work together in real-time. Use Redokun as a full-scale collaborative translation platform. It enables real-time cooperation among your team members, improving efficiency and reducing communication errors.
  • Use comments, mentions, and notifications to exchange feedback quickly. Redokun's Web Editor is a convenient place to stay in touch and discuss your translation progress every step of the way.
Collaboration feature in Redokun
  • Create a hybrid workflow. Work with your in-house teams or external translators to suit different localization project formats and scalability needs.

4. Use machine translation and translation memory tools

Computer-assisted translation tools are a great addition to human translation. Machine translation (MT) helps your collaborators speed up the localization process by automating translation. Of course, it doesn't have the quality of a human professional translation — it’s more like a helping hand that's always there to facilitate the translation of complex phrases or new terms.

  • Redokun is integrated with two Machine Translation tools: Google Translate and DeepL. Translation suggestions by these two tools pop up right below where the translator should key in the translation, as shown here.

To enhance collaboration even further, consider using translation memory tools. They ensure consistency and save translation software users a lot of time.

Translation memory (TM) is a translation technology that stores previously translated sentences or phrases as segments and creates a unique database for your localization projects. You can reuse your translation to increase efficiency and consistency in ongoing and future translations.

With Redokun as your collaborative translation platform, you can leverage TM to:

  • Consistently translate any repeated word, phrase, or sentence across different language pairs and documents. It's especially important for translating technical terms, marketing slogans, CTAs, and other catchphrases. Translation memory helps you stay consistent in your marketing messaging.
  • Pre-translate your entire documents. Combine TM matches from your previous translations with Machine Translation to get a fully pre-translated document even before your team gets to work.
  • Manage your translation memory database. Import and customize your TM database to further improve translation quality and consistency.
”The speed of translation is quite impressive in that it doesn’t take [much time], maybe a couple of minutes when you translate from English to eight markets. I think that’s what I’m most impressed by.”

Read more about how Kenni and the marketing team at Rockfon increased their translation productivity by 70% using translation memories and other Redokun features

5. Use glossaries and style guides

Glossaries and style guides are valuable resources your team can use for reliable reference.

A glossary is a list of terms and their corresponding translations that are specific to a company or industry.

A style guide outlines the preferred tone, voice, and style for a company's marketing materials across markets and languages.

Your collaborators can refer to these resources when they’re not sure about a translation. For example is when they're deciding how to translate a company abbreviation, whether to the Oxford comma, or choosing the right tone to address customers, etc. No more ambiguity about linguistic, stylistic, and cultural aspects of your translations.

  • Use Redokun's glossary feature to create a glossary and style guide that outlines rules for spelling, grammar, punctuation, terminology, and tone specific to your project.
Redokun glossary feature preview

6. Continuously review and revise

A key benefit of a collaborative translation platform is the ability to review and revise translations in an agile and efficient manner. By involving multiple specialists in the process of editing and QA, you can guarantee accuracy and consistency in the translated content at every stage of the project.

To implement effective review and revision procedures in your collaborative translation projects, it is important to:

  • Plan for review and revision in advance. Identify who will be responsible, set the timeline, and use specific tools.
  • Consider involving in-country reviewers who are familiar with the local market and culture to ensure that the translations are accurate and appropriate for the target audience.
  • Perform regular QA checks. They should include consistency in terminology and formatting, and verify that the translations are free from grammatical errors and typos.
Pro-tip: Ever experienced the headache of having to update a translation that’s already 70% done when there is a last-minute change to the source document?

With Redokun’s revision feature, you don’t have to spend hours poring over Excel sheets and comparing files to spot the places where new words have been added or sentences have been changed. Just upload the latest document version and the system will identify new text that needs translating — saving your team’s time and effort while keeping previous translations intact.


Collaborative translation is an excellent approach if you want to improve the consistency of your translations, reduce costs, and establish a strong presence in global markets.

The key to seamless collaboration is a combination of careful planning, role distribution, agile QA, and smart use of translation software.

Make Redokun part of your collaborative translation efforts and enhance the pace of your global business growth‌. Start your 14-day free trial today and benefit from a quicker and more streamlined translation workflow.

Till next time,


Rodrigo Demetrio
Steering the marketing ship at Bureau Works with 17+ years of MarTech under my belt, I transform mere ideas into tangible realities. Passionate about languages and their power to build bridges, let's build a new one?
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