Lost in Translation

dangerous Following an article in the New York Times on the linguistic phenomenon of Chinglish-- the clever and sometimes annoying melding of Chinese and English taking place in China--the New York Times asked readers to submit their own images and anecdotes of translations gone awry. The result, a humorous assortment of of caution signs, mislead instructions, and cartoonish illustrations, can be found here.

Though some of these signs may get the point across, eventually, they do so inefficiently. And, more often than not, the signs are simply ineffective. What I've found consistently throughout my research on service development is that the question of how to communicate information effectively is one of the biggest challenges faced by governing bodies and entrepreneurs alike. While working with the Institute for Information Industry in Taiwan last summer, I discovered that even when language was not the main challenge, signs often don't get the point across; for example, a color-coded driving route system didn't do much for lost tourists because tourists and locals alike weren't made aware of the system.

The mobile age promises to offer some relief from these headaches but it also offers up some of the same challenges: access to technology, implementation, compatibility, and the biggie: a system only works if users are aware of it, which brings us back to the original conundrum of information communication.