Lost in translation

WATCHDOG

Patrons of two DMV offices in Baltimore and Glen Burnie point out 'astounding' errors in Spanish versions of signs

August 31, 2008|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,liz.kay@baltsun.com

THE PROBLEM : The Spanish translation of "no trespassing" signs at the Maryland MVA offices in Baltimore and Glen Burnie are so riddled with errors that even non-Spanish speakers can detect mistakes.

THE BACK STORY : Trips to the Motor Vehicle Administration can be confusing enough, even for drivers and would-be drivers who read English fluently. But Watchdog reader Robert H. Rivkin pointed out that those who read Spanish might have a hard time with poorly translated signs at MVA offices in Glen Burnie and at Baltimore's Mondawmin Mall.

Rivkin, who teaches Latin and French, said he pointed out the mistakes to a supervisor at the Mondawmin MVA in 2005 and 2006. In addition to incorrect tenses and misspellings, the signs incorporate Portuguese prepositions such as ou for "or" and da for "of." Rivkin said "the mixture of Portuguese and Spanish is just astounding."

At the Glen Burnie MVA, Rivkin noticed that tarde, or "afternoon," was spelled "trade."

"I cannot understand how this text was not passed to a literate native speaker or to any Spanish teacher for suggestions and corrections," he said.

A third-party vendor was paid 19 cents a letter for the translation, MVA spokeswoman Caryn Coyle said last week. Staff in the operations department caught some of the errors at some locations, but not all. New signs had been ordered but the erroneous ones remained until Watchdog called.

"They were taken down today," Coyle said Tuesday. "They should have been taken down a while ago ... not all branches got the correct message to take the signs down."

The MVA posted the signs at 10 locations that process out-of-country applications for driver's licenses, she said. Under federal law, signs, forms and other materials must be translated into languages spoken by at least 3 percent of the population, Coyle said.

WHO CAN FIX THIS: Maureen Sorenson, executive customer ombudsman, MVA, 410-787-7856.

update

By Wednesday evening, the missing handrails on the Fort Avenue bridge leading to Fort McHenry in Locust Point had been replaced. But Watchdog reader Jessica Thayer thinks a bigger safety issue remains: bicyclists who use the sidewalk. On a recent Saturday, she said they expected her, a pregnant mother walking with her 8-year-old, to move into the designated bike lane next to traffic. "I wish I had noticed the missing rail and could have pushed one of these arrogant imbeciles over it," she wrote in an e-mail. Watchdog doesn't advocate violence - bikers, walkers and drivers, please share the road - but does want to hear your comments and complaints.

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