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Sometimes you can tell an automatic translation job when words are obviously mistranslated. A short word, for instance, can be mistaken for an acronym or abbreviation. This is especially true for the common English word “us,” which can either be a pronoun (the objective version of “we”) or, especially if capitalized, can be an abbreviation for “United States.” The translation should be contextually obvious to a human. To a computer? You might need to train your model more.

This was apparently the case when a Welsh store, a B&Q at the Parc-y-Llyn Retail Park in the town of Llanbadarn Fawr, Ceredigion, posted a sign about closing the location and redirecting their customers to the closest alternate store, as reported by the BBC. The sign seemed to be redirecting people inappropriately across the Atlantic!

In English, it was likely originally “Find us at…” because what follows is an alternate address and website of the company. It might have been rendered as “Dod o hyd i ni ar…” But instead, the sign read, “Dod o hyd at Unol Daleithiau…” When translated back to English, that means, “Find at United States…”

A few problems to note. Obviously “us” (the pronoun) was mistranslated as the Welsh version of “United States.” Yet also note the preposition “at,” which was not translated at all, had a strange transposition in front of the direct object “us.”

The sign will be replaced, but the embarrassment is now historical, due to the BBC’s coverage. So consider this example for your own future. When using machine translation, it may actually pay to at least have a fluent proof reader or editor approve the copy before you run with it.

* The author of this blog makes no pretense to be fluent in Welsh. Comments and corrections welcome.