The most translated movie ever

If you know that the Bible is the most translated book of all time, then it should come to no surprise that the most widely translated movie (and, according to The
New York Times and the BBC, the most watched movie of all time) is 1979's "Jesus" (or, "The Jesus Film"), directed by Peter Sykes and John Krish.

In 1980, American evangelist Bill Bright created the 'Jesus Film Project' organization, with the purpose of distributing the film as far as possible, covering as
many languages as they could and even showing it to many populations who until then had never even seen a motion picture before.

As of this writing, "Jesus" has been translated to 1977 languages, and according to statistics, has been viewed more than 8 billion times by 4 billion people,
crushing the view counts of the second most watched film, "Titanic" (1997), which only has a paltry 300 million.

It is safe to say that translation played a massive role in expanding the reach of "The Jesus Film", and should be used as an example in the sheer power of translation.

Humans vs. Machines

After so much talk of machine translation, we'd like to remind our readers why human translation will always prevail in terms of accuracy and completeness.

Here are five reasons why machine translations will never replace human translators:

1. Machines cannot understand culture: The intricacies of a country's culture reflects on their language, and such nuances can only really be understood by humans.

2. Machines can't relate words to context: With many words and characters having different meanings, machines struggle to decipher vague phrases like "tears on his shirt", which could mean one of two very different things, for example.

3. It is difficult to localize machines for different languages: As dialects evolve quickly and meanings change within a language's culture, machines would have to be kept up to date constantly with small changes to achieve accuracy.

4. Machines cannot replicate style and tone: With potentially layers of depth to a text, having puns or wordplay, a utilitarian machine will seek to emulate none of this.

5. A translation cannot be complete without the human touch: In terms of raw processing power, machines dominate humans, no question. But humans see the world through the lens of language, it is so intrinsic to our thought process that we are the only true masters of language.

To translate is to betray

“Translator, traitor"

- Italian proverb

This quote originates from the italian phrase 'traduttore, traditore', which implies that, in order to translate anything, you must betray some aspect of the original text, as a complete translation of any text cannot possibly convey every truth about the source.

Even the quote above is not translated in its entirety, as its rhyming scheme had to be changed in order to translate it to English.

Marco Polo and Translation

Marco Polo was one of the most influential
explorers and travelers of his time, and his exploits in
the eastern hemisphere affected commerce, culture,
and the arts during the 13th and 14th centuries.

What is less known about him is how exactly his
famous account, 'The Travels of Marco Polo' came into

Upon returning to his hometown of Venice after living in
China for 17 years, he was arrested by members of the
Republic of Genoa, as the two countries were at war at
the time.

In prison, he related his memoirs orally to fellow inmate
Rustichello da Pisa, who translated those stories from
Venetian to Franco-Venetian, a specific dialect spoken
north of Italy's Po river.

The accounts in the book themselves are a subject of
criticism, as translation errors were commonplace
before the invention of the printing press, which has
exacerbated the stories and entirely fabricated other

If there is one sure thing, though, is that Marco Polo
really did travel across the breadth of the known world
at the time, and his experiences marked a turning point
in the propagation of cultures and ideas through


The Great Translation Movement continues to cause waves in the online

political world, but it's important to make certain things clear about the implications of such an event.

On one hand, exposing the pro-war rallies of
propagandists seems like a righteous cause, but doing so can lead people to generalize about the Chinese population.

On the other, it makes it abundantly clear not only that the Chinese media is highlighting one opinion, is that it is not allowing the other to even have a place (pro-Ukraine sentiments are meticulously removed from Weibo, WeChat, and most other Chinese-run social media platforms).

In the West, Chinese-state-affiliated accounts are able to express their pro-Russian views freely, but within China, the state has definitely favored their relationship with Russia.

This is a delicate subject, as by attacking propaganda one falls into the habit of expressing their own.

The apparent importance of translation to our ancestors

The fact that translation has been valued and practiced for millennia shows of its importance in our communication.

One of the most significant moments in translation
history (at least for the French) was when Charles V
The Wise (1338-1380) commissioned a translation of
Aristotle's 'Politics', 'Ethics', and 'Economics', which
were of considerable value to the young king.

If only modern rulers had the same hunger for wisdom and knowledge that some dude over 700 years ago.

The father of biblical translations

The German people owe a big deal of
their language to a single man: the figure behind the
Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther.

Because of his translation of the Bible (from Ancient
Greek to German), the country’s language shifted.

His translation was localized, so that, in his words, “the
mother in the home and the plain man” could
understand it.

The accessibility of this popular book allowed the
German tongue to refine itself, leading to the complex
language we know today.


Translation as a means of power

While you've probably heard of the Rosetta stone (the
trilingual inscription written in ancient Greek, Egyptian
and Demotic), the lesser known inscription of Xerxes I,
King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire, made around
500 BC, often goes ignored.

It's written in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian, all
of these being offshoots of Cuneiform, the oldest
known written language.

Not only does this inscription predate the Rosetta stone
by around 300 years, it also makes it clear as day how
powerful translation can be in delivering information to
the masses.

A translation into English reads: "A great god is
Ahuramazda, the greatest of the gods, who created this
earth, who created yonder sky, who created man,
created happiness for man, who made Xerxes king, one
king of many, one lord of many.
I (am) Xerxes, the great king, king of kings, king of all
kinds of people, king on this earth far and wide, the son
of Darius the king, the Achaemenid.
Xerxes the great king proclaims: King Darius, my
father, by the favor of Ahuramazda, made much that is
good, and this niche he ordered to be cut; as he did not
have an inscription written, then I ordered that this
inscription be written.
Me may Ahuramazda protect, together with the gods,
and my kingdom and what I have done."

The integral necessity of human translation

A large and very significant reason as to why human
translation will stay relevant and useful is the existence
of “low-resource” languages.

This is a term coined by programmers to describe
languages have little or no data available to use for
training conversational AI systems.

Languages like English, Spanish, and Chinese have
millions upon millions of published works all available
online, yet of the 7000+ languages spoken on the
planet, only about 100 or so can be translated by

Efforts are being made to create databases for these
languages, but many are only spoken, not written, and
even more are incompatible with conventional
programming tools.

Until all of these are fully integrated into a database,
human translators and interpreters are necessary
bridges between these cultures that, otherwise, would
not be able to communicate with the outside world.

What is our philosophy?

The philosophy of translation has remained consistent
throughout the thousands of years since the ancient
Greeks devised the concepts of ‘paraphrase’ and

Scholars such as Horace and Cicero expressed caution
against ‘word-for-word' translation, and this sentiment
has been repeated throughout the works of other
seminal Western translators like John Dryden and
Ignacy Krasicki.

As translators, it is our duty to abide by this practice
which has connected our world beyond the superficial

Is poetry translatable?

Over the course of written history, translators have knocked heads about a single topic: Poetry. 


How does one translate poetry? Is it even possible?  


Those who claim it isn't, including 'Lolita' author and translator Vladimir Nabokov, pointed out that rhymed, metrical, versed poetry is untranslatable.  


According to him, the task of translating the text, subtext, structure, and rhythmic quality of poetry to a language wholly different cannot be done in its entirety, which is why all of Nabokov's translated poetry is in prose. 


Other translators like Douglas Hofstadter (Pulitzer Prize winner, 'Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid') vehemently disagreed with Nabokov, even going so far as to re-translate a lot of his poetry in verse form. 


The arguments in favor of poetry being translatable stem from the individual skill of the translator, the difference in similarity between source and target languages, and the depth of the poetry itself.  


This relationship is best described by a quote from Sholeh Wolpé, during her translation of the epic Iranian poem, 'The Conference of the Birds': 


"Twelfth-century Persian and contemporary English are as different as sky and sea. The best I can do as a poet is to reflect one into the other. 


The sea can reflect the sky with its moving stars, shifting clouds, gestations of the moon, and migrating birds—but ultimately the sea is not the sky. 


By nature, it is liquid. It ripples. There are waves.  


If you are a fish living in the sea, you can only understand the sky if its reflection becomes part of the water."

A centuries-old tradition, causer of headaches

Did you know?

For almost one hundred years, between 1772 and 1858, British passports were printed exclusively in French.

This is because of a peculiar perspective at the time
which saw French as “the language of international
diplomacy”, and many European politicians of the time
were forced to learn French because of this.

To this day, British passports have sections in French,
which has come with its fair share of controversy.

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple."

You’ve probably heard of Oscar Wilde.

He was known in his time as a witty and flamboyant
playwright and author and for his many epigraphs and
essays touching on the soul of aestheticism.

But what is less known about him is that he was a
talented translator in more ways than one.

As a child he learned French and German from home
and won many prizes for oral translations of Greek and
Latin texts, and he was an avid critic of other
translators’ work.

When a Translation overtakes the Original

It’s already strange when a translation of a text is
considered better than the original.

Rarer still is that the very own author of the original text
would prefer a translation of his work rather what he
himself wrote.

That’s how Gregory Rabassa must’ve felt like when
Gabriel Garcia Marquez commented about his
translation of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.

The exemplary author waited three years to work with
Rabassa and stated that he preferred the English
version of ‘One Hundred Years’ more than his own

This is certainly proof enough that translations are an
art form of their own.

A Translation Problem in Immigration Court

According to an article in the ‘New Yorker’ magazine
from 2019 written by Rachel Nolan, a Guatemalan
woman expressed to an immigration court that she had traveled to the United States due to a “problem with her blouse”.

As this was what the interpreter understood, he
couldn’t explain further, and the woman was deported.

The woman belonged to the Mayas, a culture that
makes up a third of the population of Guatemala.

These people suffer discrimination and oppression
because of their practices and clothing, one of them
being the ‘huipil’, a traditional garb used by women.

The ‘blouse’ this woman referred to was this ‘huipil’,
and the ‘problem’, was the danger of being attacked for dressing a certain way.

A tragedy that could’ve been prevented if she only had a quality interpreter.

How accurate are machine translations?

According to a 2016 study on the accuracy of machine translations, the average modern, browser-based translation software was 3x more likely to make
mistakes when translating between major languages
(English, Spanish, Chinese, etc.) than human translators.

These tools have certainly come a long way, but even
the study makes it clear that international businesses
should use human translators, as machines might even offend speakers of the target language.

Interpreters of Prehistory

The practice of interpreting originated much earlier than the invention of writing, and even though interpreters are portrayed in the walls of the pharaohs’ tombs, there’s more than a million years of human history before the Egyptians that wasn’t recorded.


Uncountable human cultures that never wrote down their stories and customs, that interacted with one another with either violence or peace.


The importance of interpreters became clear to these ancient tribes when cooperation between each other turned out to be a more stable way of life than to constantly wage war.


The uniformity of the modern human race despite our differences in language speaks volumes of the significance of these primitive interpreters.


Without them, the world would be a much smaller place.


[Pictured: The earliest known depiction of an
interpreter, translating between a pharaoh to the right
and consorts on the left, found in the tomb of
Horemheb, dated to 1350 BCE.]

The Fallout of Misinterpretation

The deeper we go into history, the more we realize how poor translations have been the reason behind many conflicts.


While the causes of WWII are deep and complex, the final scene likely stemmed from a single word.


As a response to the Potsdam Declaration of 1945, where the Allies called for Japanese surrender, Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki uttered, “Mokusatsu”. (黙殺).


The word means “ignore” or “withhold comment”.


Interpreting this word as a rejection of the declaration, the Allies likely decided then and there to go forth with their direct attack on Japan.


…and the rest is history.

How a Mistranslation Almost Led to WWIII

The effect of a mistranslation isn’t always as simple as an ad campaign gone wrong or a scientist being driven mad by Martians (look up Percival Lowell).


In today’s case, the result could’ve been a nuclear war.


The year is 1956, and the Cold War is at its zenith. At the Polish embassy in Moscow, USSR Chairman Nikita Khrushchev proclaimed to a room full of international diplomats: “My vas pokhoronim”.


The interpreter at the time, Viktor Sukhodrev, was used to Khrushchev’s complicated rhetoric, but in this moment, the words he spoke were “We will bury you”.


Considering that the Soviets had just created the first ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missile), this phrase didn’t resonate well with westerners who imagined themselves buried under a radioactive cloud.


The cultural context of this phrase relates to ideology rather than warfare, though, and in Khrushchev’s case, he meant “We will outlive you” or “Our people will outlast yours.”


The implied threat set Soviet-American relations back a decade and fostered in a new era of anticommunist paranoia in the United States. 

         The Bible and Translation

The history of translation would not be the same without the existence of the Bible.


Many practices that are implemented nowadays for translations originated centuries ago as monks tried to translate the holy texts into every possible language.


On the image, you can see a carving that represents a monk inspired by an angel while translating a biblical text from Hebrew to Latin.


The inscription reads: «אבינו שבשמים יהקדיש שמך» (Avinu shebashamáim iheakdísh shimjá), meaning, “Our Father who [art] in heaven, Hallowed be thy name."


It is dated at least 1500 years old, showing us the importance of translators even in the depths of the Dark Ages.

               The Tale of Genji

It happens sometimes that, over the course of hundreds of years, a language evolves in such a way that it becomes very difficult to understand ancient literature only with a contemporary knowledge of that language.

Around the year 1000 A.D., in Heian-kyo (modern-day Kyoto, Japan), Murasaki Shikibu wrote one of the classics of Japanese literature: The Tale of Genji. It revolutionized the style present in novels at the time in Japan and became a smash hit amongst the country’s elite.

Shikibu-san wrote the novel in an archaic dialect used exclusively by members of the Japanese aristocracy, which she was a part of. Because of this, The Tale of Genji is nearly impossible to read in its original format, as even with an adept knowledge of Japanese language, countless annotations and illustrations are necessary simply to follow along the narrative.

It wasn’t until 800 years later that the poet Yosano Akiko successfully completed a modernized translation of the novel, losing some of the meaning in the text, but preserving a very important cultural landmark.


Glocalization: The best of both worlds

You might think the terms ‘localization’
and ‘globalization’ are opposites, but in reality, they go hand in hand, as in the concept of glocalization.
The concept comes from the Japanese term 'dochakuka' (土着化), which meant adapting farming techniques to one’s own local environment.
Japanese businesses began using it as a buzzword in the 1980s to promote overseas expansion. The term describes a product or service that is developed and distributed globally but is also adjusted to satisfy the consumer in a local market.
Nowadays this concept is practiced widely by thousands of companies all over the world.

Sacagawea: The legendary Native American interpreter that helped shape the history of the United States

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd president of the United States, and the newly formed nation had just made the deal of a century with the French, known as the Louisiana Purchase.


From the bayou down south to the peaks of Montana, the United States government had just acquired almost a million square miles of land, almost all of it unexplored in the eyes of the new arrivals to the continent.


Eager to establish American presence in the area, Jefferson commissioned an expedition to map a practical route across the continent, study local flora and fauna, and create trade opportunities with the Native American population. This was to be the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The expedition had reached what is nowadays North Dakota, when they required the assistance of an interpreter to guide them up the Missouri river. A trapper in the area told them of his wife, a Native American 16-year-old, who could speak Shoshone (the language spoken by the local native population). Her name was Sacagawea.

For thousands of miles, Sacagawea aided the expedition in more ways than one. Providing general directions, interpreting and negotiating with the natives and providing essential moral support for the crew, she became a symbol of cooperation between cultures. Without her inputs, American history would be very different.

The art of translation in the modern age

You might not realize it, but there are translators and interpreters all around us in our daily lives. 


In our news segments, sports broadcasts, live shows, press releases and events, social media, etc., we are constantly getting live information delivered to us in our own language. Consider how many products from foreign nations are being advertised to us even if we’re thousands of miles away from the source, as well as the popularity of imported media like foreign movies, animation, video games, music, books, and much more.


85% of customers will not purchase a product at all if the information about it, the description, and support for it is not in their language. The sphere of influence of any content increases exponentially the more languages it integrates into its repertoire.


We are at the beginning of a cultural merge of global proportions, and language is the final frontier to conquer.

Print | Sitemap Recommend this page
© LML Consulting International Inc