5 awkward Hebrew translation mistakes

Hebrew is a very different from what speakers of English and other European languages are used to. It has a different alphabet system, it’s written from right to left and it doesn’t sound like anything familiar. It doesn’t have that many speakers (approx. 9 million worldwide, according to AWL and Hebrew Wikipedia). Maybe these are the reasons that these hebrew texts and translations did not turn out the way there were supposed to.


1. The late husband’s tombstone

On the BBC’s TV show Episodes, starring Matt LeBlanc, one of the scenes took place at a Jewish cemetery:


The first obvious mistake for any Hebrew reader is that the text is written from left to right, and not the other way around. Many computer programs have issues with RTL texts, so this may have been the source of the mistake.

When trying to read the text in the opposite direction, the second mistake emerges in the second line: the deceased “expensively made pickles” (החמיץ ביוקר). While this doesn’t make much sense, it is actually the awkward translation of “dearly missed”, probably made by some machine translation tool. Reading the third line, it says “beloved family man”, but the adjective comes before the noun and not after, as it should.


2. Boy George’s sweatshirt

Some of you may remember this Culture Club video from the 80’s:

The writing on Boy George’s sweatshirt says tarbut aguda (תרבות אגודה). tarbut means “culture”, and aguda means “association”, and it’s connotation as “club” might be archaic. However, the Hebrew construct state requires the word order to be opposite. It seems that the words “culture” and “club” were just looked up in a dictionary and copied on that sweatshirt, without any thought about differences between languages and their grammar.

Up until the early 90’s, band and song names used to be translated into Hebrew, so Culture Club was actually known as Moadon Tarbut (מועדון תרבות), which is the correct translation of their name. By the way, we also loved Khipushiyot HaKetzev (חיפושיות הקצב) – “The Beat Beetles”. People still refer to the Beatles as HaKhipushiyot (החיפושיות) – the Beetles.


3. LeBron’s sister’s cup

A few months ago an outraged Israeli fan decided to curse LeBron James on his Instagram page after David Blatt, formerly the beloved coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, was fired from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The expression that fan chose is a strong and unpolitically-correct Hebrew curse word, referring to LeBron’s (possibly nonexistent) sister’s anatomy.

The news portal Cleaveland.com noticed this and wanted to know what that fan had said. However, they probably used an online translation tool, which misinterpreted the profane word as “cup” (kos, כוס), as both of them have the same spelling, but are pronounced differently. It seems that the reporter then googled the expression “your sister’s cup” and then came up with a biblical reference, from Ezekiel 23:33: “You will be filled with drunkenness and grief, with a cup of devastation and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria”. The result: a report about Israeli fan using a biblical curse and wishing a plague upon Lebron. (read more here.)


The report on Cleveland.com, which was later removed, courtesy of Israeli sports reporter Becky Griffin


4. Lord and Taylor’s Hanukkah ad

During the holidays Lord and Taylor posted a huge ad wishing their Jewish customers a happy Hanukkah:


The problem? The Hebrew letter tav (ת) was used instead of the similar letter khet (ח), so instead of חג חנוכה שמח, they wrote תג תנוכה שמח. To a native Hebrew reader this would seem as if the font is off, especially in this context, but תג תנוכה שמח (the one using the wrong letter) can also be understood as “her earlobe’s tag that dies” – not a very likely sentence.


5. David Beckham’s tattoo

Years ago, Victoria and David Beckham got romantic matching tattoos with a verse from Song of Songs (6:3): I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine, that feedeth among the lilies.


David Beckham’s Hebrew tattoo

Hebrew is a gendered language and can’t be gender-neutral. For David Beckham, this means that the beloved his tattoo refers to (or referred to – he may have had it removed by now) is actually male.

(For more awkward Hebrew tattoos, check out Bad Hebrew Tattoos.)


How to avoid blunders of this kind, in any language? It’s simple: always consult a professional, from the translation to the graphic design and DTP.


Why I love being a translator

I recently stumbled upon a blog post by Oxford Dictionaries called “9 translators on what they love about translation“. Instead of reading it right away, I decided to stop and think of the things I love about translation, as a craft and as a profession, and here are my conclusions:

The diversity

While translators are encouraged to specialize, each specialization can expose us to various fields and we get to learn new and interesting things all the time: literary translators move between periods, continents and registers; legal translators can translate a business contract, followed by a child custody agreement; as a translator specializing in marketing, I’ve translated many texts about fashion and cosmetics (two of my specializations), but also about baby toys, irrigation systems and IT products for businesses, as well as articles about management and education and personal correspondence.  I translated simultaneously by typing lectures about augmentative and alternative communication, urban planning, and even a talk about the Von Trapp family, the inspiration behind “The Sound of Music”.

All this information we’re exposed to can enrich us and open us up to new domains we knew very little or nothing about, and maybe didn’t even know existed. Sometimes our texts provide us with insights and information we can implement in our own professional and personal lives. An article about marketing can help us promote our own business, and a psychological text can influence our behavior. And sometimes we just get to enjoy random new pieces of useless information.

The community

We might be physically isolated, as most of us work from our home office, but the many translators organizations available around the world and the internet have created a lively translators community. First and foremost, our community supports us professionally: assistance with terminology, business advice, and referrals. (In the largest Hebrew translators group on Facebook it is agreed that there are no stupid questions.) Our community is also a place we can socialize, make friends and get emotional support. In one of my favorite international translators groups on facebook, translators from around the world send each other local chocolate. I feel like wherever we are, we can always contact the local translators community for recommendations and tips, or just to spend a pleasant evening with lovely people.

The flexibility

Translators can work from anywhere around the world; all we need is a computer with our preferred translation software and an internet connection. Those of us who are self-employed can work at the most convenient times for them and set their schedule according to their deadlines and needs.

The experiences

In 7 years of being a translator, I’ve traveled all over Israel; I translated texts about one of my favorite museums in the world; I spent two hours at an artist’s studio, looking at his work and hearing his explanations; I translated a Nobel Memorial Prize laureate in Economics; And almost met an actual princess. I know translators who got to translate their favorite authors, and even a two translators who met at Israel Translators Association events and got marries – not bad for professionals who mostly work from home.

And of course, the actual work

Chasing after the right word, looking for the exact phrasing and finding the Hebrew equivalent – I just love it. In a way, I was looking for all of these, in conversations and in writing, even before I knew I would become a translator.

Now I’ve told you why I love being a translator, I can go read what the other 9 translators said on that blog post. And you, what do you love about our wonderful profession? What kind of experiences have you had? What useless facts have you found out through your work?

12 ways to find clients

For translators, and the self-employed in general, the million-dollar question is: how do I find clients? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, but a combination of some of the following tips to reach out to clients could help you land some great ones:

  • Have your business cards printed. Make sure they look professional and don’t leave home without them. You never know when you’ll bump into someone who could use your services.
  • Make sure your loved ones (significant others, parents, children, siblings, in-laws, good friends etc.) have a few of your business cards with them, so they can hand them when necessary.
  • Join your local translators organization – Each organization provides its own benefits, but some send their members job offers they receive. Go to as many events as you can, learn, meet translators and network with them. You might get referrals from them later on. (More reasons for joining professional organizations here.)
  • Join the translation community – Translators are fun and interesting, and apart from enjoying their company, you can consult with your colleagues and you might get referrals from them. Go to translation conferences, follow translation blogs and join online forums and groups.
  • Update and improve your LinkedIn profile – Sometimes PMs do their headhunting there. Take an hour or two to fill in your profile and add as much (relevant) information as possible, especially those that have something to do with translation and with your language and specializations.
  • Join ProZ.com – This website can be somewhat controversial among translators, but if your language combination is not very common, this could be another option. Register to ProZ and create a profile, so recruiting agencies can contact you. You can start with the free registration and decide later if being a full, paid member is worth your while.
  • Send your CV to translation agencies – You can find them on Google and see how they’re rated on ProZ’s Blue Board (free for full members) and on Payment Practices. Contact agencies all around the world, because you never know if their clients deal with your target-language country.
  • Set up a website – You’ll increase your online presence and improve your chance of being found through Google. If at this point you’re not interested in using professional website building services, you can use free website building platforms such as Weebly or WIX.
  • Contact potential clients – With your language pairs ans specializations in mind, define your ideal clients, and then look for such organizations on Google. Contact them and offer them your services. You might want to check your local spam laws first.
  • Go to industry events – If you’re a legal translator, look for events at your local bar. If you’re specializing in medical equipment, go to conferences and trade shows. Try to talk to as many people as you can, and of course, listen and learn.
  • Use your network – Think of your acquaintances -could any of them need your services, or do they know someone who might? Contact them tactfully.
  • Join a networking group – Organization such as BNI provide small business owners an opportunity to tell each other about their work, network and refer clients to each other. Personally, I didn’t feel this was for me, but I know many translators who are very enthusiastic about these groups.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget to:

  • Be patient – Finding good clients take time, and not everyone you contact will actually need your services right then and there. Sometimes you send your CV and hear from the client only a year later (or even more!). Think that you’r sowing seeds – some will grow, some won’t.
  • Check the client out – even if you can’t wait to get your first client, you do want to make sure you’ll actually get paid. If it’s a translation agency, check its rating on Payment Practices or on ProZ’s Blue Board and ask your colleagues about it. If it’s a direct client, google them. Remember: A client that doesn’t pay you also fills up your schedule and keeps you from working with clients who do pay.
  • Beware of frauds – There are people who pretend to be translation agencies, eventually making the translator give them money. Notice their e-mail – is this so-called agency contacting you from a webmail address? Is something off? If something is fishy, google they sender’s e-mail address and their message to see if another translator had already reported it.

Have you got other tips for finding clients? Please tell us in the comments!

Further reading

Japan & I

I originally wrote this in Hebrew as a blog post in 2011, several days after the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, and then translated it into English for my friends to read. Today marks the 4th anniversary of the disaster.

When I was 15 or 16 I stumbled upon a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, and was immediately captivated. At the time I wanted to read every book I loved in the original language (and I still do), so the desire to learn Japanese awakened. But unlike Hindi or Gaelic, this desire lasted longer than a month, maybe because this book opened a window to other Japanese books and authors, and so I ended up studying in the East Asian Studies department in Tel Aviv University.

Norwegian Wood in Hebrew

I can’t do justice to the ways my studies there enriched me. In addition to the language requirement (6 weekly hours for two years, and 4 additional hours I chose to take in my third and last year), I learned quite a lot about China and India, but mainly about Japan. I got out of almost every class feeling I learned something new and fascinating I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. I learned about Japan’s history, literature, culture, politics, religion and society. I find Japan a fascinating country, full of contradictions, which seems like the exact opposite of Israel, although there are more than a few similarities between the countries.

“Modern Japan” by Ben Ami Shiloni, a book every East Asian Studies student in Israel reads, along with “Traditional Japan”.

After my graduation I spent six wonderful weeks in Japan, the first month studying Japanese at Waseda University, and then two weeks sight-seeing in Kyoto, Nara and Nikko, among others. Our curriculum at Waseda included a whole day at the Ikebukuro Bosaikan, a disaster prevention center where we learned how to use fire extinguishers, saw a movie about earthquakes and went through earthquake and smoke simulators. I have learned, for instance, that after an earthquake you shouldn’t walk around barefoot because you might step on debris and shards, and that smoke advances faster than people, so as you run away from it you should close doors behind you. As homework I wrote an essay about the experience, and that night there was an earthquake. About 4-5 Richter scale, which in Israel is headline material, but isn’t worth mentioning in Japan.

Waseda University incorporates local students in its Japanese programs, who help the foreign students practice their Japanese and hang out with them, and so for the first time I met Japanese people in person (except for my teachers). My close group of friends was formed very quickly, with local and foreign students (US, Taiwan, China, Denmark, Hong Kong and Israel, of course), and we would go out together to karaoke or clubs, walk around the city and speak in Japanese and in English, sometimes both. On our last night we went out to an izakaya and bid each other farewell with hugs and tears. We still keep in touch and get updates through Facebook and other wonders of technology, and though I didn’t get to yet, some of my friends have met during their travels.

Some of the girls in my Japanese program at Waseda, on an evening we all wore yukatas.


During the month I spent in Tokyo and and my two weeks of travels in Japan the beautiful places I’ve seen were countless: Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, The temple complex in Nikko, Horyuji Temple in Nara and Kiyomizu and Ryoanji temples and Nijo Castle in Kyoto are just a few names that pop into my head at the moment. There are many more places in Japan I’d like to visit, and after visiting it during the hot summer, I’d love to see it in its magnificent autumn colors.

Huryuji Temple, Nara

I started learning translation because of a new Japanese translation class in the translation studies program in Tel Aviv University (and I stayed because I saw that it was good). During that class I “completed a full circle”, as goes the Hebrew expression I really dislike, and translated the first pages of Murakami’s first novel (Hear the Wind Sing, which Murakami doesn’t want to be translated, as well as his second novel, so you probably won’t find them in bookstores). More importantly, I met some people who I became good friends with, and through them I got acquainted with the Japanese community in Israel. Many of my friends and acquaintances have returned to Japan, and some Israelis have went there for their studies. A couple who went back to Japan after two years in Israel sent me a photo of their new baby girl about and month ago. She is 2.5 months old now.

When I heard of the earthquake almost two weeks ago I immediately made sure all my friends in Japan are fine, in a procedure that we Israelis know all too well. Since then I’ve been talking to some of them online and following their Facebook status lines. I hear of aftershocks, of the fear of radiation, of existential insights and conspiracy theories which tend to raise their heads after such events. I receive links to stories about survivors, accounts of people who live in the disaster area. For work I translate news stories of outlooks for Japan, estimates of the costs of the disaster and possible implications for world markets. I hope the nuclear crisis will be solved soon and that Japan will start rebuilding itself.

Help Japan

Language Post

I used to collect stamps for a few years as a child, and that may be the reason I still love stamps – colorful with beautiful pictures and interesting information. I think it’s really nice how postal services around the world still take the effort to design new , as people send fewer and fewer letters. Since I also love languages, I really like finding stamps that are about languages.

A stamp was dedicated to the Hebrew language was issued in 2011 by Israel Post (click to enlarge):

Hebrew Language Stamp From Israel Post website

The plant’s leaves spell out עברית or Hebrew (“Ivrit”), and its roots extend to four layers of the ground, each representing a historic form of Hebrew: Biblical, Mishnaic, Medieval and Modern, the deepest layer being the oldest. Words from the corresponding Hebrew form are written on each branch of the root, all still in use, as Modern Hebrew draws from all of them. For more information, check out this article on the Hebrew Academy website.

In April 2014 Israel Post issued another language stamp, but this time for a completely different language – Israeli Sign Language. ISL has its own syntax and it’s a language of its own. These stamps teach us how to sign thank youkissfriendshiplove, and goodbye (bottom row, left to right). The labels show us how to spell in ISL (click to enlarge):

ISL Stamps, Access Israel website

These new stamps inspired some research, and I found two older language stamps. The first was issued in 1959 and bears the picture of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922), who was the force behind the resurrection of Hebrew (click to enlarge):

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda stamp, Israel Philatelic Federation website

The second is from 2006 and bears the portrait of Ludwik L. Zamenhof (1859-1917), the creator of Esperanto. Zamenhof’s image is created from Esperanto words (click to enlarge):

Ludwik Zamenof stamp, Wikipedia

Do you know other language-related stamps? Please comment!

Another Musical Post: My Favorite Covers

At the end of my previous post I promised this post will include my favorite covers, where both the original songs and the covers had nothing to do with Hebrew.

Israelis weren’t the only ones to cover the Beatles; Les Compagnons de la chanson have their own version of Yellow Submarine, only the submarine is green:

Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco was covered by Johnny Hallyday:

It seems Adamo had a big hit with Tombe la neige, and he also recorded a Japanese version.

You can also hear Japanese singer Misora Hibari‘s version:

Another French cover is Dalida’s version of Brian Hyland’s Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini:

We all know the Platters’ Only You. But do you know the Italian Version? It’s probably by Little Tony.

The Ukranians are a British band that plays traditional Ukrainian music. They gave a Ukrainian twist to The Smiths’ Bigmouth Strikes Again:

Dschinghis Khan didn’t win the 1979 (Israel did, with this song), but their song, also called Dschinghis Khan, became a huge hit. Almost 30 years later, Japanese girl group Berryz Koubou released their version of the song. Be careful: you won’t be able to get this song out of your head easily.

And last but not least, a personal favorite: A traditional Japanese version of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water about a fire in Edo:

Do you know other such interesting covers? Please comment and share!

A Musical Post

An article called 12 Legendary English Songs That Are Even More Beautiful in Other Languages mentioned a cover for Leonard Cohen’s hallelujah by Israeli singer Mei Finegold. This reminded me there are many more Hebrew covers for global hits, as well as a few foreign covers for Hebrew songs. So sit back, crank up the volume and enjoy the music.

Since hallelujah has countless covers, I found another Hebrew one, translated by Kobi Meidan and performed by Eran Zur, Abigail Rose, Ivri Lider and Shlomi Shaban:

Singer-songwriter Chava Alberstein covered Hey, Jude by the Beatles, called Hey, Ruth in Hebrew (written by Yoram Taharlev):

I suppose Beatles covers were really popular around the 60s, as singer Arik Einstein covered Do You Want to Know a Secret. The Hebrew version is actually funny and has nothing to do with the original lyrics – a young man is waiting for his date, who is getting ready for their meeting. The chocolate he has brought her is melting, but she still hasn’t even popped her head out of the window. (Also written by Yoram Taharlev.)

Singer-songwriter Meir Ariel translated and covered Bob Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Doors:

In the 90s Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue had a hit duet called Where the Wild Roses Grow. Singers Si Heyman and Dani Litani covered it:

English songs were not the only ones covered. Gilbert Becaud‘s tale of exotic Nathalie became Naphtali in Gadi Yagil song –  a story of a man who was always early, and eventually came home too early, only to find his wife with another man (starts at 0:33).

More recently, singer Kobi Peretz covered Khaled‘s catchy C’est la vie:

Toto Cotugno‘s L’italiano was covered by Doron Mazar in his hit Ani Khozer Habaita (אני חוזר הביתה, I’m coming home):

Some Hebrew songs also got their own foreign cover. In 1974 Israeli band Kaveret (a personal favorite) participated in the Eurovision contest with the song Natani La Khayay (נתתי לה חיי, “I gave her my life”). French singer Joe Dassin has his own version for the song, which is completely different from the original and talks about military life.

Israeli duo Hedva and David had a big hit in 1970 called Ani Holem al Naomi (אני חולם על נעמי, I dream of Naomi). Surprisingly, it became huge in Japan as well and got its own Japanese version, Naomi no yume (ナオミの夢, the dream of Naomi):

This song also has a Korean version, by Jung Hunhee, 1972:

Our next post will include all of my favorite covers that have nothing to do with Hebrew. Stay tuned!