Salsa de Soya vs. Sala de Soya: A Lesson of Technology’s Shortcomings in Translation

A client came to us some time ago, for proofreading needs. They sent us a menu that was originally in Latin American Spanish and its translation into American English (carried out elsewhere). We immediately detected that the translation had been filtered through a machine. We do not proofread machine translations, and we let the client know. They decided not to pay for the full service (human translation + proofreading).

One term that kept on showing up on the menu was “Salsa de soya”, which had been correctly translated as “Soy sauce”. Yet, the original copywriter mistakenly entered “Sala de soya” on one occasion. Microsoft Word does not have a way to detect this as a mistake (i.e. it does not underline it with that red wavy line). Since our client did not employ a professional translator to do the job, but instead used Google Translate, the result for “Sala de soya” was “Soy room”. I’ve never seen a “Soy room” (although I imagine a search in Google might bring up a few Zen images of what it might be… I don’t dare imagine what it could be, though…). The menu was printed with that error. Is it a big mistake? You can be the judge of that. They ultimately hired us for the entire process, and had to reprint all their menus.

Let’s hope that for the future, though, Microsoft Word can discern between “Salsa de soya” and “Sala de soya”, as it should distinguish between less obvious terms (which include words that appear in the dictionary), such as:

• “Live concert”, “Alive concert”, “Life concert”, “Lime concert” and “Line concert”;

• “Perfect bar” and “Prefect bra”;

• “Perfect tense” and “Prefect tens”;

• “Bare bones” and “Bear bonus”, etc.

 Without sounding pretentious, but rather as cautionary advice, let’s also hope that our client has learned a valuable lesson for the future.

Written by Bryan Lattke
Bryan Lattke is a professional translator, editor, market strategist, techie and serial entrepreneur who has a knack for travel, writing, and networking. Since 2003 he has been the Chief Creative Director of Trustlations, Inc. | Trustlations.com, overseeing translation, proofreading, copy editing, and DTP services for clients ranging from individuals to Fortune 500 companies.