Interpreter blunder surprises Arabic-speaking world

The passing of HM The Queen in September was international news; the UK’s longest reigning monarch had made a huge impact on the world stage in her almost 71 years as head of state.

However, the pressure of reporting apparently got to one of the Arabic interpreters working for Dubai’s Al Arabiya news channel. Viewers were shocked by the linguist’s blunder, rendering “it is my most sorrowful duty to announce to you the death of my beloved mother, the Queen” with an Arabic translation that literally meant “I am very happy…”.

Most in the Arabic speaking world greeted the mistake as a bit of light relief from the sombre proceedings and one that was easily understood as a mistake, even to those without English. However some, including Egyptian news provider Sada Elbalad, made much of the slip-up, calling it a “terrible mistake”.

The episode highlights the difficulties of simultaneous interpreting and the quick judgement linguists face if they make a mistake. Using appropriately skilled interpreters and investing in their development is the best way to minimise the risk of mistakes.

Read about how TLS invests in interpreters’ skills and development here.