It is hard to believe that some large companies still does not understand the importance of an accurate and error-free user manual. This article gives some examples of unforgivable errors in one of the largest companies' user manuals.

It is hard to believe that some large companies still does not understand the importance of an accurate and error-free user manual. This article gives some examples of unforgivable errors in one of the largest companies' user manuals.

I have come across a microwave oven – among other appliances - user manual (I cannot mention the company's name, but, as a hint, it consists of only two characters). That manual contained numerous errors; it was not a machine translation obviously, yet it was one of the worst translations that I have ever seen. It was just as if the translation manager thought with himself that "nobody these days read user manuals, and those who would will just skim through it, and, moreover, this is just a technical translation, not a Shakespeare's play, so there is no need to hire a professional translator and pay more" – and this is what happened.

By the way, I do not agree completely to the thought that people in "warm countries" do not read user manuals while their "cold countries" counterparts always does. I never liked the idea of generalization, and I prefer "many people in X countries do not read…" rather than "people in X countries do not read".

Here I will talk about the Arabic version of the user manuals; I don't know if the other languages' versions are good or bad, although I think they would be at a similar level.

Out of the countless errors, I will start with the most horrible ones.

Error # 1: An ugly error:

"هذا الفرن غير مصص لاستخدامه للأغراض التجارية".

This sentence is supposed to say: "This oven is not dedicated for commercial use". The error is in the word "mokhassas" which means dedicated. This is a four-character Arabic word, and our professional translator forgot the second character! I can't imagine a translator forgetting the "n" in the word "know" and getting a "kow"! This is not a typo, this is a fatal error, especially when we understand that this sentence has something to do with the guarantee, it relieve the company from responsibility on any damage caused by using the oven commercially, but now, with a meaningless sentence, one could do anything and still be able to sue the company.

Error # 2: Granted, the following error seems like a typo, but again, it has disastrous effects:

لا تسخن السواذل أو الأطعمة الأخرى في الوعاء المحكمة بالغطاء لأنها قد تنفجر.

This should mean:"Do not heat liquids or other foods in an airtight vessels because they could explode". The typo is in the word "sawael" which means liquids, now it is as if he wrote "lipuids" rather than "liquids". Clearly, the sentence now means nothing at best. This is what you will get when you say "it's just a user manual". Failing to hire a professional translator, or hiring one but refraining to hire an editor and/or proofreader leads to this.

Error # 3: In a refrigerator user manual, there is the following:

قد يؤدي استخدام عدم أجهزة على مقبس واحد إلى اندلاع النيران.

Well, this means: "the not use of many devices on one socket may lead to fire outbreak". Obviously, the word "layysa" which means "not" is excess.

Error # 4: Now, the following error, found in an LCD TV user manual, from the same company, is really beyond expectations! I can include it only as a picture, but does not allow including pictures. The error is like this: the sentence is flipped 180º (left right), so you have to read it from left to right! I wonder how this can happen; it is probably due to the fact that there are compatibility issues regarding Arabic in the translators' computer, and again, absence of revision and/or proofreading causes this.

Error # 5: This one is a grammatical error, in a washing machine's user manual:

اوقف الحنفية في حالة عدم استخدام الجهاز لمدة طويلة (مثل الإجازة)، خاصة ليس هناك الفتحة للتصريف (الأخدود) بالقرب.

That manual contained both the English and the Arabic versions. The source text for the above sentence is: "Turn off the tap if the machine is to be left for any length of time (e.g. holiday), especially if there is no floor drain (gully) in the immediate vicinity". If I am to translate the Arabic sentence, with its errors, it will read like this: "…, especially there is no the floor drain (gully) in the immediate vicinity". If there is someone who produces such very weak, or simply wrong, expressions, then it is not fair to call him a 'translator'.

Conclusion: if you are a large company, an agency or a translator, pay special attention to every detail in the user manual; it is more important than you may think. It is not very difficult but it is not trivial either. Failing to follow these recommendations will, eventually, have momentous effects, not to mention distorting the text.

Copyright, 1999-2006. All rights reserved. -
Serious Errors in User Manuals
Author: Ali M. Alsaqqa
United States
English to Arabic translator 
By Ali M. Alsaqqa
Published on 09/7/2010
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