March 1st is the day of the patron saint of Wales – a nation close to our hearts at Engage Web, where we’re just a few miles from the border and have Welsh staff and clients.
Welshmen and Welshwomen are proud of their language, which is one of the oldest in Europe, but for English-speaking companies and communicators, there’s something about it that seems to lead to controversy and calamity when they try to make reference to it.
Here are three examples that spring to mind where someone has made a Rhyl mistake with their Welsh and should have approached it a lot more Caerphilly:
1. Facebook mistranslation leads to unusual suggested activity
In 2021, the Snowdonia National Park Authority innocently asked its Welsh Facebook followers if they were planning to visit the Ogwen area some time. Unfortunately, Facebook’s translation software interpreted the question somewhat differently.
The misunderstanding, for which Facebook is more to blame than the Authority, seems to have come from the Welsh word ‘rhyw’, which according to Google Translate can mean both ‘some’ and ‘sex’.
2. Snickers accused of Cymruphobia
This wasn’t a translation error, but rather a bit of an insensitive piece of social media high-jinks from the Twitter account of the nutty chocolate bar Snickers.
The account’s “a place in Wales or someone sat on a keyboard” game in 2020 raised some smiles among English speakers who find Welsh words unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce, but others found it insulting, including representatives of Welsh language broadcaster S4C. Eventually, Snickers deleted the tweets with an apology.
3. Welsh out-of-office message gets printed on a road sign
We have to end with this old classic. Although it was nearly 15 years ago, Swansea Council’s gaffe remains one of the very best.
It seems a message that needed to be printed on a road sign was sent to a Welsh translation agency, whose response went straight onto the sign. However, the response was in fact a Welsh out-of-office notification, causing some confusion for lorry drivers approaching an Asda store.
When communicating across a language barrier, it’s important to do it with care and sensitivity. Whatever your audience, speak to Engage Web to find the right words and avoid embarrassment.