Translation Fails: Bad Russian Translations (And How to Avoid Them)

Russian translations are hard work for a lot of translators. It’s a language that’s vastly different to English in almost every aspect including the alphabet, vocabulary, and grammar (the case system can throw almost anyone for a loop). It’s also the native language for 154 million people around the world.

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If you’re in business, it’s likely that at some point you are going to need to translate something into the Russian language. It could be corporate or legal documents, an ID badge, or even the sign above your company’s door! 

As Russian is so different from English, sub-standard translations can result in some very funny translation fails. In this article, we’re going to show you why you should only ever hire professional translators like us to translate to Russian from English. 

Ready to see some shocking and silly translations? Then keep reading!

The Saddest Garden

One word that can often trip translators up when translating from Russian to English is сад. This word, pronounced ‘sad’, translates to garden. Yet you will sometimes see it transliterated into English as ‘sad’ on signs.

Imagine visiting a garden only to be told that this is, in fact, a sad, sad place? No one needs that.

Name Translations

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As in other languages, Russian names can have real meaning behind them. Yet this doesn’t mean that the name should actually be translated!

One example of this would be translating the name Надежда. Nadezhda means ‘hope’ in Russian and it is a fairly common first name, like in English. Yet a clumsy translation from Russian can give this person a completely different name.

As you might imagine, this kind of error is not uncommon and can lead to some big problems with communication! It stems from the translator not recognising it as a Russian name but as a normal noun.

Not Even Putting Any Effort Into Their Russian Translations

One particularly awful example of bad Russian translations comes from the world of video games. In 2010, a little game called Singularity was released. It is a first-person shooter game that played around with time travel but was also set in Russia.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

The game made no attempt to translate its Russian. Instead, it dumped English words into the Cyrillic alphabet and left it at that. This means that no smoking signs on the walls read ‘но смокинг’, rather than the real translation of ‘не курить’.

Can’t Get Your Tongue Round That

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When translating from Spanish, you need to be careful with the word ‘lengua’. This means tongue, like the body part, and language. You can see this to some extent in English too, for example, ‘mother tongue’. 

Russian has the same word for language and tongue too, язык. This means that on some restaurant menus that have undergone some mangled translation to Russian, you will sometimes see a ‘salad with a language’, rather than a salad served with tongue meat.

The word for salad can also throw some translations. Russians use the word салат to refer to both salad and lettuce. This can lead to some big problems occurring in the produce section of the supermarket!

Why Worry?

Your hotel room door sign telling you not to worry might spark some serious concerns. It might leave you thinking ‘why shouldn’t I worry, what’s going on?’

This is the sign you can expect to find in some Russian hotels that have experienced a truly tremendous set of translation fails. We’re all used to the ‘do not disturb sign’ that you can hang on your door, but the word ‘disturb’ is беспокоить, which also means ‘worry’. 

As such, if you book into a hotel room in Russia, you might find a sign that tells maids ‘do not worry’ rather than ‘do not disturb’. Somewhat alarmingly, please make up the room is also sometimes mistranslated as ‘please remove the room’. 

Jason Bourne’s Phony Passport

Jason Bourne is meant to be a superspy to rival James Bond. He’s able to sneak into enemy territory and get the job done while remaining undercover. 

Yet in reality, his passport would have given him away in no time at all. In The Bourne Identity, we get to see Bourne’s Russian passport that should let him stay undercover. Yet his name is absolute gibberish

His surname is shown as ‘Лштшфум’, which is not a Russian surname and just reads as ‘Lshtshfum’. Nor does it bear any resemblance to his apparent Russian name of ‘Foma Kiniaev’, which is far from an actual Russian name.

One cunning Redditor discovered that this nonsense name is the result of typing ‘Jason Bourne’ on a Russian keyboard layout. Fantastic spy-craft right there from Mr Bourne.

You Did What?

A sausage roll is described in Russian as a sausage in dough, or ‘сосиска в тесте’. To the amusement of every Russian speaker and the humiliation of bad Russian translators, the word for dough is close to the word for father-in-law, which is тесть.

This means that it’s quite possible to stumble across a menu that instead of offering you a savoury snack is instead offering ‘sausage in father-in-law’. Probably not quite what you had planned when considering a spot of lunch.

Exercise Plenty of Caution

Adverbs and grammatical conventions can cause all kinds of translation fails. One common one that you might see on badly translated Russian warning signs is ‘осторожно’ being translated as cautiously, rather than caution.

This can lead to some rather entertaining signs that will tell you ‘cautiously glass’. When you figure out how glass is a verb, we would love to hear it!

Do You Want to Get the Best Russian Translations?

Translation to Russian is a difficult business, but there’s no reason for your company to wind up with some of these incredible translation fails on your materials.

We’re translation professionals and can give you the best Russian translations, no matter what you need translating. For more information about us or our services, please get in touch with us!