I apologize for the quality of the photograph. I hope you agree that I could not pass up this sign, even though I knew I’d never get good enough light.
This sign, which appears in one of the jitneys that run from Journal Square in Jersey City to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, teaches a clear lesson: Always get a native speaker to vet translations—especially if you let a machine do them.
If you know some Spanish, you can see that “out with time” is an attempt to translate “salga con tiempo.” (Wouldn’t we like to know why the first part of the Spanish version, the part that probably said “Do not rush the driver,” has been cut off?)
When I put “salga” into Google Translate, the English result is “out.” Hm. OK, I guess, maybe—if you think of it as an exclamatory command: ¡Salga! Out!
If you type in the whole phrase, “salga con tiempo” comes out “leave in time.” That’s at least more accurate. (It’s also less hilarious, so it probably wouldn’t have landed in this e-letter.)
But “leave in time” still doesn’t convey the point, which is that you should get yourself off the jitney promptly when it stops.
Even a perfectly accurate translation (if there is such a thing) may not convey the right point in the right context.
When you need to communicate with people who speak languages other than your own, translation software can get you only so far. People who have learned to speak the target language fluently can get you much farther.
But no one can get you all the way there except a native speaker of the target language.
If you have to deal with translation in your work – I realize that most readers don’t – you probably already knew that. But I hope this e-letter didn’t feel like a waste of time. Didn’t the sign give you a giggle?