Lost in Translation


As an anglophone struggling to survive in Germany, Google Translate is my best friend. I carry it with me everywhere on my phone and consult it frequently. I know though that it cannot always be trusted.IMG_20180721_1937124

My daughter was visiting, and I took her to the local mini-golf course, the one no-one except me ever uses. She asked me the meaning of a sign that was posted on more than one tree. I whipped out my phone and provided the answer.

“Bahnen nicht betreten” means, I confidently told her, “do not enter railways.” We both did a double take. There is no railway in Sulzburg, the train hasn’t run here for decades and the track has been torn up.

Was this someone’s weird sense of humour? It is the sort of thing i would post if I was a sign poster. Germans though are not noted for having a quirky sense of humour; they are serious people.

Back home I asked my wife for her translation. I had a vague memory of her telling me what the sign meant the first time we played the course. She rendered it “Do not stand on the playing surface,” which I must admit makes a lot more sense.

I’ll try to remember that, though I usually do stand on the playing surface. It is concrete, my treading on it won’t hurt anything.

It is also a good reminder that technology has its limits, and that what I read in Google Translate is not necessarily gospel.


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