Tamil translation errors due to "encoding", incompatible font: NEA, NTUC Club

Singapore- The National Environment Agency (NEA) and NTUC Club on Thursday separately explained how Tamil translation errors happened in materials meant for the public.

The NEA said that its poster on high-rise littering was badly translated due to "encoding errors".

"This arose during the digital transfer of the artwork to the printer," a spokesman said. He added that the posters have been recalled, and are being replaced.

NTUC Club was also guilty of badly translated Tamil in letters sent to members to welcome them into U Live, a community for the elderly.

A spokesman said: "Some of the text was indecipherable. This was the result of an incompatible font being used to place the translated Tamil text into the artwork." He added that there was also a lapse in process, as the final artwork was not vetted before the letters were sent out.

"This is a serious lapse in our procedures and we once again apologise unreservedly for this inexcusable error and also for upsetting any of our Tamil-speaking members," he said. He also said that the Club is reviewing its internal processes to prevent such incidents in the future.

The mistakes in translation came to light after National University of Singapore undergraduate J.S. Sasikumar on Wednesday sent photographs of the poster and letter to Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, and NTUC Club, and also copied the media in his email.

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said in a reply to queries from The Straits Times that agencies engage the services of private translation firms on their own, and that gatekeeping is done by the respective government agencies due to the "increasing demand for translated materials across the Government".

The Ministry does however have a translation department that helps to deal with "whole-of-Government translations".

A spokesman attributed the recent errors to to a software error. She said: "When translated works were transferred from the Microsoft Windows operating system to Mac operating system, a font-encoding error occurred."

She acknowledged that government agencies nevertheless have the responsibility to ensure that materials are accurate and error-free.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg