With 10,000 athletes coming from 205 countries to compete in 300 events, the London Olympic Games 2012 are the emblem of internationalism. Clearing the language hurdle is essential to make such a diverse audience communicate effectively. Accuracy in translation is of the upmost importance; the detailed precision will make the difference between smooth communication and embarrassing misunderstandings.
Seamless communication is the backbone of any international event. According to The National Centre for Languages (CILT) an estimated 70,000 volunteers, including language experts, are needed during the Games; languages are identified as one of the top 10 skills areas requiring volunteers. People with language skills are needed in all Games roles, not just interpreting and translating.
Translation mistakes by organisations creating Olympic promotional material have already been spotted by the public. For example, the London shopping centre Westfield Stratford, which is located next to the Olympic Park, has become famous on the web because of a translation slip. To welcome international visitors for the Olympics, this shopping centre printed huge banners and staff T-shirts saying “Welcome to London” in different languages.
The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) said the words in the Arabic banner were back to front and not joined up as they should have been. The phrase that was meant to be "Welcome to London" was closer to "N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W".
Chris Doyle, the director of Caabu said the mistake was likely to have been made because translation software was used, rather than an actual translation mistake by a qualified linguist.
A similar mistake has been made by the rail firm First Capital Connect, which sent posters to 13 stations printed in English and seven other languages. The Olympics security poster, intended to warn people not to leave items unattended, reads as "gibberish" in Arabic.
Mustafa Kadhum, the BBC's Arabic Online news editor, said: "Arabic words and sentences are written and read from right to left and Arabic words are always written with joined up letters, with some exceptions." A spokesman of First Capital Connect declared that the English message had been translated by a professional translator, but the printer substituted another font, so that the wrong alphabet was used for the Arabic message. The choice of the font might have been a matter of taste to a non-specialist, but it can be the most crucial factor!
The Olympics show the importance of language knowledge and good translation on a large scale, but any international meeting or event, where people speak different languages, requires attention and cultural awareness to carry out a successful communication.