English subtitle failure

This weekend I watched Dom Zły (The Bad House, also translated as The Dark House), a fabulous Polish film made laughable by its appalling English subtitles. Unless there is some hilariously ironic subtext revolving around a literal translation of the Bad House being full of bad translations, whoever commissioned this catalogue of errors should be taken outside and beaten to death with a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary.

This is not an isolated incident: we’ve mentioned the generally poor quality of English subtitles in Polish films before. This time I’m getting specific. I painstakingly went through the film and picked out 15 examples. I could have picked out 150, but these were the most hilarious.

Why does any of this matter? It matters for several reasons. If you are going to include English subtitles, they must do their job. If I hadn’t been able to follow the Polish, there were several places in this film where I simply would not have known what was going on. This is something of a handicap if you want non-Polish speakers to enjoy your work. Dom Zły is a very good film, one of the best I’ve seen for a long time and far better than recent offerings by heavyweights such as Polanski and Wajda (the English subtitles for Katyń, a multi-million dollar Oscar-nominated film, were also riddled with basic errors). It deserves to be seen by a wider audience, but with these subtitles it’s barely comprehensible and, more importantly, anyone reading them will be giggling too much to pay attention to the story.

For an investment of a few thousand zloty the award-winning script could have been translated into a form that would have allowed an English-speaking audience to enjoy it. As it is, the whole thing is made to look tawdry and unprofessional. I would like to recommend this film to friends in the UK, but I won’t because I know the subtitles will give a bad impression.

The “or something” presumably being whatever the correct translation of “protocol” is.

* * *

No, “Hallo” is a Polish word, “Hello” is the English one.

* * *

Blackie is a dog, presumably from the pages of The Beano. The use of “chomped” here looks like random thesaurus work. How about: “He says Blackie bit (or nipped) him.”

* * *

A basic tense error combined with a confusingly literal translation of the Polish “Pan ‘first name'” form. How about: “The gentleman says he’s been traveling for two days.”

* * *

Another basic tense error (Yesterday I sang…). It would also have been helpful to indicate that “Ratuszowa” is a restaurant.

* * *

Coincidentally, adding a plural ‘s’ to uncountable nouns also makes me mad.

* * *

Is he good with mechanics, or good with machines? Perhaps the production company accidentally hired somebody who was good with translators, rather than good with translations.

* * *

And thus we inexplicably move to the 19th century (where they don’t have possessive apostrophes).

* * *

Her expression says it all. What? Could you repeat that in a known Earth language please.

* * *

Of the three words in this statement one of them is grammatically wrong and one of them simply hasn’t been translated! It’s: “On Czech television.”

* * *

I also want to stop emblazonments, if only I knew what they were. Perhaps some kind of embezzlement that’s on fire?

* * *

Please do not invent new phrasal verbs, we have enough already. It should be: “You can probably track her down,” or “You can probably trace her.”

* * *

Ten out of ten for checking the English idiom dictionary, minus several million for GETTING IT WRONG! Also, nobody actually says “drunk as a skunk.”

* * *

I beg your pardon?

* * *

Why stop at ‘vouch’? Let’s go Elizabethan and ‘vouchesafe.’ Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, how about: “You swore that the (probably ‘a’) dog knocked the crate to the ground.”

* * *

I have written an email to the production company, FilmIt, with a link to this post. I’ll let you know if there is any reply. The subtitle compiler is listed in the credits, but I won’t name him because I don’t really blame him. I doubt he’s a professional subtitle compiler, he’s probably somebody’s cousin with an English philology degree. The fault lies with the production company for not paying attention to a serious problem that could very easily have been fixed. If I was the author of this screenplay, or any of the actors who performed it so well, I would be mightily annoyed with the people who made me look like an idiot.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


I received a reply to my email from Feliks Pastusiak (titled: Producer, Film It & Grupa Filmowa).

My email:

Drodzy Państwo,

Obejrzałem ostatnio film „Dom Zły“. Uważam, że to najlepszy film, jaki widziałem od lat. Chciałbym polecić go znajomym z Wielkiej Brytanii, ale napisy w tym filmie są tak złe, że nie mogę. Są absolutnie fatalne. Znaleźć w nich można setki drobnych błędów i tuziny bardzo poważnych, a w niektórych miejscach dosłownie nie sposób zrozumieć o co chodzi – tekst po angielsku jest komplentnie niezrozumiały.

To nie jest problem, z którym spotkałem się po raz pierwszy. Prawie wszystkie polskie filmy, jakie widziałem, mają bardzo złe napisy w języku angielskim. Piszę do Państwa, ponieważ akurat Dom Zły widziałem ostatnio. Dlaczego tak się dzieje? Z pewnością nie kosztowałoby to wiele, aby napisy zostały sprawdzone i poprawione przez doświadczonego redaktora i korzyści z filmu mogłyby być ogromne. Polska to przecież kraj z bogatymi akademickimi tradycjami, słynący z dużego szacunku do słowa pisanego. Dlaczego nie tyczy się to napisów w filmach?

Napisałem na ten temat, odwołując się do filmu Dom Zły, na popularnej stronie Polandian:  http://polandian.home.pl/index.php/2010/06/21/english-subtitle-failure/
Jak widać po komentarzach, nie jestem jedyną osobą, którą doprowadziły one do rozpaczy.

Jamie Stokes

Dear Sirs,

I recently watched the film Dom Zły. I thought it was the best film I have seen this year. I would like to recommend it to friends in the UK, but the English subtitles are so bad that I can’t. They are hilariously bad. There are hundreds of minor errors, dozens of major errors and in some places it would literally be impossible to understand the story from the subtitles.

This is not a problem unique to Dom Zły. Almost all Polish films have bad English subtitles. I’m writing to you because this is the Polish film I have seen most recently. Why does this happen? It would cost very little to have the subtitles checked and corrected by a competent editor and the benefits to the film would be huge. Poland is a nation with an admirable literary and academic tradition, why is this not applied to subtitles?

I’ve written about this issue, with examples from Dom Zły, on the popular website Polandian: http://polandian.home.pl/index.php/2010/06/21/english-subtitle-failure/. As you will see from the comments, I am not the only person driven mad by this.

Jamie Stokes

I won’t reproduce the reply here, because Film It asked me not to, but I will set out its main points.
1. The reply is polite and of a length that suggests he takes the criticism seriously, though whether this will result in a change of practice remains to be seen. He assures that any future releases of the film will take account of my points.
2. He acknowledges that the English subtitles are deficient and, without claiming them as excuses, gives the following reasons:
a) They were prepared in a hurry—reasons for which are suggested by ThomasM in the comments below.
b) The characters in the film use highly colloquial language, which is difficult to translate. I expected this point to crop up in the comments, though it didn’t. I doubt there’s any point in trying to capture a colloquial flavour in subtitles, and it may be that the attempt to do so was the cause of some of the subtitles’ failings (words such as ‘chomped’ and phrases such as ‘drunk as a skunk’ spring to mind).
3. He claims that the subtitles were checked by native speakers of English. I find this very hard to believe. Even a complete amateur would have spotted the basic tense errors. It may be that the translation agency, or the translator, claimed they had been checked by native speakers without having gone to the trouble of actually taking this step.
4. He concludes by noting that the film has enjoyed considerable success at international film festivals, which is another point I expected. Film festival juries seem to be blind to the quality of subtitles. Perhaps they think it is outside their remit, or that the needs of potential monolingual viewers are simply beneath their consideration. I think this is a serious oversight. What I should, perhaps, have made clearer in the my original post was that I was more concerned with the impact on international non-Polish speaking audiences than on myself. I live in Poland, it’s up to me to learn the language; and I was able to follow the story quite adequately from the Polish where the subtitles let me down.
All in all, more than I, and most Polandian readers, expected. Thanks and best of luck to Mr. Pastusiak.

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66 thoughts on “English subtitle failure

  1. I also watched the same film with English subtitles.

    As all English subtitles on Polish films are uniformly awful the matter hardly seems worth commenting on.

    It’s ‘the norm’.

  2. Also, I don’t know why you bothered emailing the production company.

    You will probably get a reply from some pani Olaesque caricature telling you that the English don’t speak English very well.

  3. Bartek says:

    Jamie, I watched the same wicked copy of Dom Zły the day before Smolensk plane crash. I wanted to write about the same, but under those circumstances I gave up the idea and later on I forgot to come back to it.

    The errors above are mostly a proof of carelessness and corner-cutting approach, not a very bad command of English, although some examples prove translator’s blatant incompetence… It was probably prepared in haste, without proofreading, etc.

    Many times I thought about writing e-mail to the idiots who publish the scary translations (those which I had ridiculed on my blog), but after all I’d always come off it thinking it would be nothing else but fraying nerves. I think you won’t get a reply…

    And I can tell you EN->PL translations can also be awfully cocked up…

  4. There is one more mistake in “Ratuszowa” example. In English we put a dot before quotation mark – not after like in Polish. ;)

    One day I read interview with Polish PL->American EN poetry translator. He used to translate one poem for weeks! Though his English was very good he had an American friend who checked his all translations and without his approval the translator wouldn’t release any of them.

  5. scatts says:

    I just spammed a comment that was titled “How to treat heatstroke in dog’s health”. Don’t get many of those to the pound!

    I watched the film in Polish without subtitles. Do I get Brownie points?

    10/10 for perseverence, Jamie. Quite right. If nobody stands up for this nonsense then it will never change. While you’re at it, can you make sure you let them know that they might actually make more money if they subtitled more films….even badly….dare I say.

  6. muu says:

    This is just sad and so typical.
    But then, assuming that nobody in the production company will give a damn about Jamie’s e-mail, so it’s pointless to send it in the first place, isn’t that sad and typical as well?

  7. island1 says:

    I’ve often wondered about EN-PL subtitles. I’ve certainly seen some howlers, but it’s hard to be sure if you’re not a native speaker.

  8. island1 says:

    Well, the positioning of punctuation varies between British and American English, so I’d let that one slide.

    They presumably had weeks, if not months, to work on this. It’s a pity they don’t seem to have taken advantage of that luxury.

  9. island1 says:

    Spam comments have gone mad on this for some reason. I just saw one titled “7 SOLID TITANIUM JEWELED GEM BELLY NAVEL RINGS.”

    Have your brownie points and be damned!

    It is mad. It’s got to hurt sales. If I was a UK or US distributor I’d think twice about promoting a film that didn’t make any sense.

  10. island1 says:

    Spam relevance failure

  11. I have only just recovered after blasting out a mouthful of coffee all over my monitor. Please warn your readers before subjecting them to humour so rarified!

    This is brillantly hilarious. How to turn profound social drama into the wittiest of light-hearted comedies with a subtle application of subtitling! Two for the price of one.

    Shakespeare could not have done it better.

    “Thus cracks a noble heart.
    Goodnight sweet prince –
    He has gone to the worms.
    And talking of worms, how can you tell one end
    Of a worm from the other?
    Simply drop it into a bowl of flour
    And wait for it to fart”

    The Polish film industry is thus turning out cutting-edge drama for the home market and side-splitting comedy for export without having to go to the expense of actually making two movies.

  12. wildphelps says:

    Thanks for the laughs. It is bad subtitles like this that compromise Polish films’ international standing. I have had friends complain about how the rest of the world ignores Polish films. With subtitles like this, can you blame them?

  13. Harrisonek says:

    I’m pretty sure emblazonment is an English word. This from Wiktionary.org:1. The act of emblazoning. 2.The state of being emblazoned. For anyone who doesn’t know, to emblazon something is to “adorn [it] with prominent markings”. But yes far too many errors for such a major Polish film. One day having so many native speakers come over to Poland will have its’ benefits!! :)

  14. Malcolm says:

    I would be interested in buying one of those de-phlegm-ators. I have been suffering with blocked sinus’s for two weeks now.

  15. Foreigner says:

    These subtitle’s are a really saga botch. Seems won’t hold water, that in today’s times is insurmountable find translator in Poland which have sufficiently mastering of a current English in order to do orderly translation which not is haphazardly jocular. :-(

  16. island1 says:

    Yes it is a real word, however, it’s a very obscure word and it’s not the word they were looking for.

  17. inselaffen says:

    let’s make fun of non native speakers! BECAUSE THATS REALLY MATURE

  18. Foreigner says:

    Who’s making fun of non-native speakers? If you work as a PROFESSIONAL TRANSLATOR, you are expected to be able to use your target language(s) as well as any native speaker. If you’re inexperienced, have your copy checked by a native speaker, preferably a professional writer or linguist him/herself. In any case, you are responsible for the end result.

    Usually, when you’re having your movie subtitled, it’s because you want to make it easily accessible to a foreign audience in a form as close to the original as possible. These subtitles, on the other hand, look so much like a rushed first draft I suspect they were included in the DVD as an afterthought. Or maybe they’re just a vanity project, a feature never seriously intended for being actually used by non-Poles. It’s just the producers’ bad luck that Jamie was one of those who did use it.

    I think if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

  19. zarazek says:

    Actually ‘hallo’ (as well as ‘hullo’) are variants of ‘hello’, even though they may not be as popular as they used to be.

    Other than that, DISGRACEFUL.

  20. zarazek says:

    The one thing I don’t understand is why this translation was done by a non-native speaker. As far as I know, you translate into a foreign only in exceptional circumstances and this surely wasn’t one of those.
    Maybe island1 should polish up his Polish and become a translator so people abroad can enjoy our cinema?

    Speaking of bad translations, have you heard of Star Wars Episode III The Backstroke of the West?

  21. Steve says:

    ‘Why have them?’ is the intriguing question. I suspect its part of a con-trick. Partly aimed at potential random purchasing English speaking consumers. More importantly, however, I suspect it is aimed at investors, directors, actors, etc. “We are producing a film with English sub-titles, so it might be a world wide hit. Please ‘co-operate’ with us”: ie give us your money or take the job.” The fact that the film fails to make any impact will not be blamed on the subtitles and the (executive) producers never have any expectation of international success since Polish films are very specific to the Polish audience ie generally awful. Paying for quality subtitles is therefore a complete waste of money. I wish they were wrong, but I could count the number of international market quality Polish films on the nail of one finger. (I can still manage mental arithmetic, otherwise on the fingers of two hands.) Why hasn’t ‘Poszukiwany, poszukiwana’ been released with sub-titles though? Great film.

  22. Foreigner says:

    Actually, there’s nothing wrong in translating into a foreign language, provided you seek advice of a foreign speaker. In any serious project (like subtitling a major movie), translators ought to work in teams anyway.

    The reason Island1 or any other native English speaker is unlikely to make a fortune as a proofreader for Polish translators is that few people in Poland understand the problem and are willing to do something about it.

    Not that careless translation is unique to Poland. Where I live, there’s a fairly large business calling itself “Economic Location” and advertising it in big bold letters on their HQ. Kudos to anyone who guesses what they do. (Hint: whoever came up with the name was a native French speaker).

    “The Backstroke of the West”: LMAO! :-)

  23. Foreigner says:

    I meant “advice of a native speaker”…

  24. Foreigner says:

    You may be on to something there.

  25. island1 says:

    I do sometimes wonder why they bother. Perhaps it’s the distributor rather than the production company that creates them—I don’t know enough about it.

  26. Bartek says:

    If nobody stands up for this nonsense then it will never change.

    So what have we been doing for the last couple of months? And what’s teh outcome? This is unlikely to change.

    And what the hell attracts so much spam (just deleted another tens of spam comments)?

  27. Bartek says:

    1. ‘do the protocol’ should be ‘write a report’, it has nothing to do with diplomatic protocol or http or any other web-related stuff

    2. ‘because you hit the bull’s eye as far as article assortments go’ = because you hit the nail on the head when it comes to the range of products

    3. ‘he wanted to stop emblazonments’ = he wanted to curb embezzlements

    4. ‘drunk like a skunk’ – why not ‘got hammered’ or ‘pissed as a fart’?

    5. ‘dephlegmator’ is probably a machine used to remove phelgm out of God knows what. I don’t know what it is in Polish, English surely doesn’t have a name for this contraption…

  28. Iota says:

    > The one thing I don’t understand is why this translation was done by a non-native speaker

    The “translate into your mother tongue only” standard doesn’t have to work for such unpopular languages as Polish. There are anglophones who know Polish well enough but they are rare and I’d expect their rates to be very high (major understatement).

    What might work instead is teamwork: a Polish and English native working together (cf. Foreigner’s post). That however, is again more costly than most people would want it to be (“Why do I have to pay TWO people for that”?).

    All this is compounded by the fact that the client can’t usually judge the end-product quality themselves (they’d have to hire somebody to do that, i.e. pay even more money!).

    And once they do get feedback, the product is usually out there on the market already. Correcting a translation would mean pulling the product off the shelves (loss), paying somebody to do the job AGAIN (another loss) and finding someone else to check if the translator did it right (THIRD loss). All that for the prospect of a few more foreigners buying the new version (those who hadn’t laughed their heads off when they saw the old translation).

  29. ThomasM says:

    I was recently contracted to do the subtitles for a Polish film (albeit into German). The trouble was that the film company flatly refused to issue a copy, or even just the soundtrack of the film, to the translators, for fear they would leak them to filesharing networks. Without any audio-visual context, in many places it was almost impossible to figure out what the characters were on about. It wasn’t until the very last minute that I finally got the film and could translate the subtitles. In the end, it was a total rush job—although there would have been plenty of time, but for the company it was more important to stop their work from being pirated than to have it properly translated. I’ve never heard of the film being on anywhere outside Poland, btw.
    @Zarazek: In Poland, it’s still perfectly common to have stuff translated by non-native speakers of the target language. I think this isn’t going to change as long as Polish translators are paid about a quarter of what their colleagues in “the West” charge.

  30. @Zarazek: In Poland, it’s still perfectly common to have stuff translated by non-native speakers of the target language. I think this isn’t going to change as long as Polish translators are paid about a quarter of what their colleagues in “the West” charge.

    And so long as film producers continue to employ incompetents to subtitle films to an English market, the consumers in this market will never ever take Polish films seriously.

    Its a false saving.

    If the films were subtitled competently, the pontential audience for such films would be at least 10 times greater.

    And richer.

    And probably less likely to download the film illegally.

  31. ThomasM says:

    You’re right. But I’m afraid Steve (“it’s part of a con trick”) and Foreigner (“few people in Poland understand the problem”) are right, too.

    @ inselaffen: “let’s make fun of non native speakers! BECAUSE THATS REALLY MATURE”
    We’re not making fun of non-native speakers. We’re all not native speakers in all languages but one or, in rare cases, two. What we are making fun of is the fact that people hire non-native speakers at a fraction of the cost of a native one, and either don’t understand or don’t care that this is a problem.

  32. guest says:

    At the end of the day this is not a movie for foreigners !

    Especially foreign women should not watch it !!!. They should watch M jak milosc or things like that.

    ha ha.

    Island, Poles work their asses off to promote and create a new image of Poland and you will destroy everything *cry* lol.

  33. scatts says:

    Let’s face it, bad translators are CHEAP!!

  34. island1 says:

    If it’s not a movie for foreigners, why did they include subtitles at all?

    “Poles work their assess off” yes, but then they screw up the easiest part right at the end! This was a really good film, why blow it for the sake of that last bit of effort.

  35. island1 says:

    But in the context of even a low-budget movie like this, it’s beer money.

  36. island1 says:

    An interesting insight from somebody who knows something about the subject, unlike me.

    Who commissions subtitles? What’s the money like?

  37. Darth Sida says:


    “Why did they include subtitles at all?”

    Because they had to? Is it you’re taking for granted here that the producers wanted _nice_ English subtitles?

    Whatever the whys and wherefores of their decision – think that the main course is Polish, the subtitles in English being bonus pudding (with no proof in it). You don’t like it – you don’t eat it – and enjoy main course.

    If you have a personal interest in offering native quality to the subtitling industry – that’s ok – but remember the price will be the major factor. Which is a good thing, if you ask me.

  38. bob says:

    Jamie – believe it or not we do say ‘drunk as a skunk’. It looks like it may have even originated on your small island:


    In the future it may be fun to do restaurant menu jolly’s – see them every day.

    Recently: smalec was translated variously as: pig fat, lard etc. Golanka was: boiled pig’s knee – both very appetizing no doubt

    There are endless supplies even though the translations have improved since I first came to Poland in 1990

  39. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Neil Boothman, Vicky. Vicky said: Depressingly rubbish English subtitles: http://bit.ly/a5vkIq (via Facebook) There's just no excuse for this. […]

  40. Never in my life have I heard anyone say:

    “As drunk as a skunk”.

    It sounds highly artificial to me.

  41. island1 says:

    My favourite smalec translation was “Peasant grease.”

    I still don’t believe anybody really says “drunk as a skunk” outside English-language classrooms. Maybe they really do say it in the States, along with “Gosh darn it” and “Ya’ll come back now” :)

    “Stinking drunk” could well be British, but we don’t have skunks, so I doubt we came up with that one.

  42. island1 says:

    Why would they want bad English subtitles?

    I just don’t believe the price can be significant in the context of a movie budget.

    Interesting parallel: last night a friend of my wife’s asked her to translate the precis for and article she had written into English (with my help). All well and good, but she qualified it with the phrase “It doesn’t have to be good.” Why doesn’t it have to be good. If it’s got to be in English, surely it’s got to be in proper English, otherwise what’s the point?

  43. Filip says:

    I suspect that translators hardly ever watch the movies they’re working with, even when translating into polish. For example, from x-men wolverine:
    (a tank – military vehicle, can be clearly seen on the screen)
    [english voice] – Blow up that tank!
    [polish subtitles] – Wysadź ten pojemnik! (tank meaning container)

    But for me the titles are the real mystery, especially this one:
    EN: Girl Interrupted
    PL: Przerwana lekcja muzyki (An interrupted music lesson). There are of course no music lessons in the movie.

  44. ThomasM says:

    @island1: “Who commissions subtitles? What’s the money like?”

    This was the only subtitle job I’ve ever done, so I can’t answer in general. I got it through a translation agency in the same city as the production company. The money was the usual rate, although admittedly I didn’t try to negotiate up. I have no idea if the agency charged more than it normally does (and if they did, they probably wouldn’t have told me). I’m not saying I did a bad job, but if I were a film-maker, I’d rather pick the translators myself instead of hiring an agency that happens to be next door. ;)

  45. Iota says:

    > But for me the titles are the real mystery,

    That mystery can be solved once you take into account a title isn’t just like any other piece of text, it’s a marketing device.

    I’d say it’s likely the person choosing the title is *not* the translator.

  46. DaDarthSida says:

    “I just don’t believe the price can be significant in the context of a movie budget.”

    It can — in case of a budget movie. And any movie may turn out a budget movie in a (generally) budget country.

    “If it’s got to be in English”

    The stress falls on “it’s got to be”, not on “in English”.

    Btw, does “English” mean “Royal London British English with Garters, Tassels and Bacon” – or “English Int. As We Speaks Eat”? If the latter, then who are you to judge, lol?

    ps: “Probably you can trace her down” is ok: “down” is a noun? :)

  47. Jeannie says:

    This was hilarious. Have you thought of doing a once monthly movie translation post?

    I would love a job translating these things on the second go around or working with someone on the first go around, although I don’t speak Polish. Once they got the gist on the screen, I’d be able to make some sense of it!

    Very funny. Thanks, Island.

  48. Steve says:

    Copyright and cost sound good contributing factors when the subtitles are unimportant. However, there is a great deal of nonsense in both English and Polish subtitled films. I was once reading the Polish sub-titles to a US film; it was rather boring so I was trying to see how well I could read the Polish version. I saw the Polish equivalent of “Why are you working today? Its Friday.” (Piątek). Since Friday is a normal working day, this seemed strange, so I thought there was some twist to the film I had missed. Was something interesting happening? No, It was actually Sunday. The translator had just got it wrong. Could this be anything other than gross incompetence?

  49. “I would love a job translating these things on the second go around or working with someone on the first go around, although I don’t speak Polish.”

    I wouldn’t worry about it.

    A lack of proficiency in languages is no handicap if you are seeking work writing subtitles for Polish films.

  50. “EN: Girl Interrupted
    PL: Przerwana lekcja muzyki (An interrupted music lesson). There are of course no music lessons in the movie.”

    The title comes from the Vermeer’s painting “Girl Interrupted at her Music” (Polish: “Przerwana lekcja muzyki”), mentioned many times in Susanna Kaysen’s book that the film was based on (but not in the film itself).

  51. “with an English philology degree”

    You mentioned two years ago that “there is no such degree as ‘English philology’ nor any hint of what it could possibly mean” in the UK.

    That’s probably a fault of many Poles who translate the name of the degree in such way, while it’s called simply “English Studies” in the English-speaking countries. The term “philology” is obsolete or restricted to professional usage in English (where means rather only historical linguistics), but still popular in Polish (filologia), German (philologie) and many more European languages, and has a broader meaning of “language and literature studies” in them – that’s probably the source of misunderstanding.

  52. Dinolaure says:

    Native French speaker trying to guess : Economic Location stands for :
    – cheap accomodation ?
    – budget rental ?
    – business real estate ?
    – business that provides for (chic) business headquarters adresses ?
    – consulting firm supporting foreign investors ?

    ? could you enlighten my lantern ? (standing for give me a clue ?)

  53. scatts says:

    Two “updated” comments:

    1/ Given the dreadful state of many English people’s English language skills, it’s entirely possible it was checked by a native speaker. Just a bad one.

    2/ I really wanted to watch the recent film about Popiełuszko. I’m sure many others would like to do the same. Look on the back – subtitles are only Polish for the hard of hearing. We shall watch it anyway but a few foreign texts would help.

    It’s like the Poles have decided that nobody else is interested in their art and history so they’re just not going to bother trying.

  54. Halina says:

    To start with “Dom zły” sounds as odd in Polish as “The House Bad” in English. “Zły dom” like “The Bad House” sounds more natural. There may be some unknown reason for this noun/adjective inversion which I’m not aware of, not having seen the film.
    As I mentioned in my posting to this thread: http://polandian.home.pl/index.php/2010/03/17/eight-polish-to-english-translation-errors-that-are-ruining-my-life/comment-page-1/#comment-9947 one can broaden the scope of the issue to include En > Pl direction and all the subject matters, e.g.: I.T, Medical, Marketing, Technical, etc… (you name it…)
    The problem in a nutshell stems from the imperfections of the translator evaluation and procurement systems as well as commercial pressures. The numbers of translators have risen sharply in response to the increased demand, with few meeting the necessary standards. A translator is a writer and should therefore be first evaluated as such. It is less to do with being a native or a non-native speaker, but more with having a writing flair and an ability of abstract thinking.

  55. Magda says:

    Most importantly, Ratuszowa should be in italics, not in inverted commas!
    And yes, a period at the end off a sentance, which finishes with a quote, appears before the end-quote – BUT only if the text within the inverted commas is a direct quote.


  56. Wojtek says:

    Just a small techical note. While the above examples are both hilarious and cringeworthy, as someone who has on occasion translated Polish stuff into English (I’m afraid I’m one of those disgusting non-natives though), I’d like to point out that subtitle translators work under strict space (character count) constraints. They’re given a specific number of characters per subtitle, and are therefore sometimes forced to “err on the side of brevity”, truncating the text and perhaps omitting a “restaurant” here or a “gentleman” there.

    That being said, these are atrocious :/

  57. get a life, man. The film is excellent and most of the errors you comment on don’t matter as they’re not really all that impeding. In Polish television, on polish television. Whatever. Hard to believe you took the time to point that out. If your friends in England struggle with the difference they probably wouldn’t appreciate the film to begin with. As for the above suggestion that you start a monthly column about bad film translation, I’d counsel you rather to improve your polish and become a translator yourself. It’s not such an easy job even if you have a lot of time.

  58. As to the first “error” you pointed out, if you translated Pan as gentleman every time the word was used, absolutely no one could bare to watch more than five minutes of a polish film as it would be so comical as to actually be impeding, after which it would be monumentally irritating. Mr. Srodon would have been a better translation.

  59. island1 says:

    I agree that the film is excellent, which is why the bad subtitles are so annoying. You say the poor translations don’t matter, I say they matter very much if you want Polish films to be watched abroad. I suspect you don’t care whether Polish films are watched abroad because we are, after all, only stupid foreigners.

    Your sloppiness is symptomatic of the whole problem: the main difficulty with the example you pick on is that nobody in the English-speaking world knows that ‘czesky’ is Polish for Czech. The fact that the translator also uses ‘in’ instead of ‘on’ is just a bonus example of poor English—I could have pointed to hundreds of others.

    I do not want to be a translator. I don’t doubt that it is difficult, but that isn’t an excuse for doing it badly.

  60. island1 says:

    The main problem in this example is the basic tense error, something that an FCE level student should have spotted.

    I did not suggest ‘Pan’ should be translated as ‘gentleman’ every time. In this context it would make sense because that’s how an English speaker would refer to a third party formally. ‘Mr Srodon’ would also work, I agree.

  61. Dag says:

    I watched the same movie with my girlfriend who’s from Poland. The subtitles were certainly the most horrible I’ve ever seen! It’s sad since it is in my opinion a great movie, The errors made me laugh loudly though.

  62. “Czesky” is Czech for Czech. The Polish word ends with an “i”. The interesting thing is that “Czesky” is an American slang word for Czech people (a counterpart of Polack).

  63. […] przez wszystkie fora dotyczące tłumaczeń, ale wart jest tego, by przytoczyć go raz jeszcze: English subtitle failure to spojrzenie obcokrajowca na stan tłumaczeń polskich filmów na język […]

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