Panel issues recommendations to reduce Tamil translation mistakes in government materials

(From left) Jay Gee Melwani Group managing director Ramasamy Dhinakaran, Tamil Resource Panel head A Palaniappan, Minister Chee Hong Tat, and Mr T Venugobal, assistant director, Tamil Language/Senior Specialist, Curriculum Planning and Development Di
(From left) Jay Gee Melwani Group managing director Ramasamy Dhinakaran, Tamil Resource Panel head A Palaniappan, Minister Chee Hong Tat, and Mr T Venugobal, assistant director, Tamil Language/Senior Specialist, Curriculum Planning and Development Division at MOE, at the Indian Heritage Centre on Jan 26, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The quality of Tamil translations for government materials is set to improve.

A review panel has put forth a string of recommendations to catch potential mistakes before they are published.

This comes after a series of Tamil translation errors in recent years, such as the inaccurate translation of Tan Kah Kee MRT station in December 2015. It had read wrongly as "paan kah kee" instead.

Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health Chee Hong Tat, who made the announcement on Thursday (Jan 26), said the first measure is to tighten vetting procedures.

He said: "We will require all government agencies to adopt a more rigorous process to vet and check their translated materials before they are made public."

He said that this could be done in-house or outsourced, with the review panel providing a list of experienced vetters for those who cannot do it themselves.

Mr Chee, who chairs the National Translation Committee (NTC), was speaking at an appreciation event for the 11-member review panel at the Indian Heritage Centre in Little India.

The panel comprised communication experts, academics and editors of Tamil news media. It had found that Tamil translation errors in official materials ranged from typographical and grammatical mistakes, to technical issues with font conversion as a result of incompatible computer software used by government agencies and their printing vendors.

The second recommendation, therefore, requires agencies to work only with publishing companies equipped with compatible Tamil software. This should be specified as a requirement in contracts with printers.

The third is to improve capabilities, which involves establishing a network of public officers who are proficient in Tamil, issuing a glossary of commonly used terms and holding training workshops for Tamil-speaking public officers and translators to improve their translation skills.

The NTC, which was established by the Ministry of Communications and Information in 2014, works alongside three resource panels for Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

The Review Panel on Government Tamil Translation was set up after Mr Chee told Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate last April that a systemic review would be conducted following the series of mistakes in government Tamil translations.

On Thursday, Mr Chee said: "Quality translations are essential for effective communication and are also a sign of respect to our different ethnic communities. We are committed to doing better and getting our translations correct."

The review panel, which completed its work late last year, was headed by Mr A. Palaniappan, head specialist (English/Tamil) at the Language Services Department in Parliament. Mr Palaniappan said the translation glossary will contain about 3,000 general terms and the translated titles of 400 statutes, among other things.

Mr Palaniappan also gave the example of how the senior citizen concession card had been wrongly translated to "expired senior kissing generation concession card". This error was the result of a misspelling, and a misplaced Tamil word, he said.

Mr Shawn Ganasan, 40, a process executive, said the review was long overdue. He added: "Mandarin, Malay and Tamil are three of Singapore's official languages and should be treated with reverence. More effort should be made in checking and vetting."