4 Jul /13

The Sign Says Do WHAT?!?!

airport interpretersSixty years ago, going on vacation meant for many travelers to visit a destination within a 200 mile radius from their home. If American travelers could afford a more exotic trip they might visit Niagara Falls, Yosemite National Park, or the sandy beaches of Florida. Fast forward to 2013, a time when transcontinental flights are routine trips and a proper vacation is not really a vacation unless you can stop at a minimum of 5 different countries in the process. Going abroad now means to visit places that are literally on the other side of the world and preferably in a remote location where there are no other tourists to spoil the travelers immersion into local culture. The unprecedented mobility of our age is, of course, made possible by the global network of international airports and airlines that allow us to fly wherever we want whenever we want.

While it is easier and more affordable than ever to catch a flight to a remote destinations from virtually anywhere in the world, many of the world’s airports are not quite yet prepared for the ever-growing influx of visitors. As we all might know too well, travelling to an enticing, exotic destination and enjoying your visit can also quite easily become somewhat problematic if you don’t speak the local language and nobody else speaks yours. To avoid disgruntled visitors from the get go, many airports have begun to employ their own, very special welcoming committee designed to help visitor navigate the pitfalls of linguistic inaptitude and local authorities to manage the stream of foreign visitors. Airport interpreters help foreign nationals make the first steps in an unfamiliar environment and security personnel to effectively uncover potential threats.

Many travelers believe that they are able to navigate their way through an airport relying wholly on the facility’s signage, which is – or should be – clear, concise, and direct in order to quickly guide travelers who are often pressed for time. Generally speaking, the very vast majority of airport signage does exactly that. However, there are, of course, exceptions to the rule. One airport, for instance, urges travelers to “be careful of landslides” in a somewhat misguided effort to alert them of a “slippery surface.” Another airport advertised their particularly tasty local “flesh juice” and advised passengers to “mind their crotch” in advert to warn against low ceilings and promote fresh juice.

While these examples of English mistranslations are entertaining and harmless, we can probably all agree that one of the greatest fears of any time-pressed traveler is that we will be randomly selected for additional security screening. In this scenario, a wrong or mistranslated answer to a misunderstood question could potentially mean a missed flight or much worse. We probably all remember the last time we were faced with the stern expression of a border agent whose questions seemed strangely bizarre, or worse, didn’t make any sense at all as they were asked in a language we had never heard before. Personally, I get somewhat worried when, after two or three unsuccessful attempts to convey my answer to what I think he was asking about, the facial expression of a border agent does not turn to a welcoming smile but seems to become even a little sterner. Then I know that I should probably stop talking and ask for an interpreter for I otherwise might end up in an hour-long interview in one of the mirror-glassed interrogation rooms in the background.

EVS Translations provides interpreting services for both the private and public sectors. Our qualified and experienced interpreters are frequently selected for AGMs, SE Work Councils, compliance audits. Give us a call next time you are in need of a language professional to make your communication easier.