Tamil Notices Are Wrongly Translated More Often Than Other Mother Tongues

You’d probably think creative agencies would’ve been more cautious in dealing with Tamil translations, especially after calls for “a more rigorous process” in vetting public messages established by the National Translation Council earlier this year.

Clearly, the idea of proper vetting didn’t sink in with some.

People have once again brought up the issue of Tamil being poorly or wrongly translated in public notices.

This comes after a user posted this error-ridden bus notice by the Public Transport Council on lowered train fares on Sunday (17 Dec).

“As usual, the Tamil portion is a bunch of gobbledygook”

According to commentators in this thread, the Tamil translation is simply nonsense.


Basically, the Tamil words and letters were allegedly jumbled up in the process of translation — Tahts lkie Elgnish lokoing lkie tihs. (That’s like English looking like this.)

To be fair, Public Transport Council has already apologised on 15 Dec, two days prior to this becoming an issue on Reddit, for a similar mistake in the digital version of the ad.

Some members of the public spotted the errors in the Tamil translation for the latest fare announcement and we are thankful for their feedback. Please bear with us as we work on the rectifications.

Posted by Public Transport Council on Friday, December 15, 2017

Lost-in-translation, again

This is not the first time Tamil has been misinterpreted.

In 2015, it was found that the road sign leading to the famous CBD hawker centre – Lau Pa Sat – had errors in its Tamil translation.


As Singapore is founded upon the ideals of multiculturalism, this mistake sparked an outcry amongst Singaporeans. Most of whom emphasised how translations for every language should be given due attention.

In other words, simply relying on Google Translate should not be an option.

Two years after the incident, organisers of NDP 2017 were somehow guilty of the same blunder. This time, as per Singaporean tradition, NDP 2017 had its theme #OneNationTogether written in four languages. Once again, the translation in Tamil was missing a few letters and characters.

Why do we repeatedly struggle to get simple translations of an official Singaporean language right?

Last warning.

System incompatibility to blame for language lapses

To be fair, some argue that the prevailing reason for mistranslated Tamil is the incompatibility of software used by design and printing companies.

Apparently, according to some graphic designers, certain computers used by printers may not have the appropriate or standard Tamil fonts installed. This inevitably results in missing or jumbled letters within sentences.

Thus, the incorrect Tamil phrases are usually lost in translation when sent to the printers who do not check on the final artwork’s copy.

Even if they do realise the mistake, the printing firm is not in charge of making the corrections.


Instead, as suggested by this netizen, the responsibility of vetting the final design lies ultimately with the agency and their respective clients.

All things considered, that seems pretty fair.

After all, you don’t see Gordon Ramsay easily letting out a dish without doing some QC.


Clearly, it takes nothing more than greater effort in vetting the final product, to prevent such problems from persisting.

A problem that needs to be properly addressed

Having all major languages in Singapore displayed correctly is more important than it seems.

While it has practical benefits like helping those less versed with the English language receive essential information, it also reflects how much we truly value multiculturalism in Singapore.

By making sure that we get other ethnic languages right, we show due respect to the importance of cultural diversity and take crucial steps towards social integration.

Singapore’s beloved comedian Kumar says it best in this hilarious video, surely it’s time we gave Tamil, the due respect it deserves.

Featured image from Reddit and Public Transport Council.