By ANDREW DECK
In 2020, Uma Mirkhail got a firsthand demonstration of how damaging a bad translation can be.
A crisis translator specializing in Afghan languages, Mirkhail was working with a Pashto-speaking refugee who had fled Afghanistan. A U.S. court had denied the refugee’s asylum bid because her written application didn’t match the story told in the initial interviews.
In the interviews, the refugee had first maintained that she’d made it through one particular event alone, but the written statement seemed to reference other people with her at the time — a discrepancy large enough for a judge to reject her asylum claim.
After Mirkhail went over the documents, she saw what had gone wrong: An automated translation tool had swapped the “I” pronouns in the woman’s statement to “we.”
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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
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