Mistranslations cost San Franciscans public transport improvements

A series of translation mistakes during a campaign to vote on a proposition for public transport improvements in San Francisco may have led to its failure.

Despite being a city world famous for its streetcars, San Francisco’s public transport infrastructure is in desperate need of investment. The recent proposition would have allocated an extra $400m to improvements and was backed by senior figures in local politics. However, it lost, with only 3,350 more votes needed to pass.

When the campaign was translated into Spanish for the city’s 130,000+ strong Hispanic population, it was riddled with mistakes that many now think could have contributed to its failure.

The errors ranged from an ambiguous translation of the amount to be invested, suggesting it could be $400,000 rather than $400m, to simply nonsensical: “The bond funds these priorities” in the original was translated to the nonsensical: “The tavern’s bail bond these priorities”.

As well as failing to get the facts over, the campaign left many in the Hispanic community feeling disrespected and disenfranchised. The proposition’s failure to pass is simply the latest story highlighting the need for sensitive and professionally handled translation.

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