Translation quality (HP manuals, etc.)

I'm a journalist* and am currently investigating reports that non-English user manuals for HP calculators contain silly and sometimes incomprehensible translations.
There is speculation that these appeared when cost-cutting led HP to get its texts translated in Asia (lower costs, but over-reliance on computers and non-native speakers). Examples cited so far are in the German version of the HP 49g+ manual ( "sin" rendered "Sünde" ("sin" in the religious sense) and "cos" rendered Lattich (lettuce, etc.).
I was wondering if any HP device users here had noticed this problem -- in German or in another language -- and if so, your reactions.
Irritating? Funny? Something that would lead you to switch to another brand?
MTIA for your help.
Chris Durban
Paris (+33 1 42 93 58 02)

*My column, "the Onionskin" runs in the UK and the US. The aim is to educate users/buyers of translation through case studies (excerpts appear in a brochure called "Translation, getting it right" that can be downloaded for free in English, French, German and Czech from various translator association sites (see and



I recently had the opportunity (as a tech writer who is a native from the Middle East) to translate English into Arabic for a large corporation working with the UN. I used two web sites to translate Arabic into English (after living 25 years in the USA and not writing in Arabic AT ALL, I got rusty .. what can I say!!!). Of course I invariably ending up editing what the translators generated, ut they gave a good place to start.

The jest of what I am saying is that the translators who worked for HP PERHAPS (this is the key word) ALSO used web site translators which can get very literal unaware of context. In my own experince the translator did not keep track of gender in verbs (which Arabic has) and sinular and plural when dealing with a long sentence or with multiple sentences.

Hope this helps you!




search comp.sys.hp48 from a month or 2 back--lots of discussion RE: hp 49G+




Worse, the calc itself can be mistranslated. A PDF file can be updated, I wonder if Valentin should return his 12C platinum?

Look at this picture:
You will see that it is written
Computer translators have lots of problems translating name of places and people. When they fail, they usually just leave the original which seems to be what happenned here.
And obviously noone with French knowledge checked this as it is a REALLY BIG AND BASIC MISTAKE (and I thought there was at least one French guy in hp's calc division). I would be able to translate this in Chinese and my Chinese is very bad... this shows you the level of translation quality in hp. Unfortuantely, it is just sad, not funny



My guess is that the recall by HP for the HP39G+ and the HP48GII is a wake call that speaks for itsself. Not that HP execs spent hours reading messages in this forum, but the FACT that these calculators were dying out seems to have made an impact. Someone should be resposible at HP and/or its subcontractor for this carppy job!!!!!!!!!

Now HP if you are listening ... I want an HP-41II!!!!!!!




Hi, Arnaud:

Arnaud posted:

"Worse, the calc itself can be mistranslated. A PDF file can be updated, I wonder if Valentin should return his 12C platinum?"

Don't get misled by the fact that I placed these pictures
at my web site. Actually, they've been taken by Gene, and the pictured HP-12C Platinum belongs to him.

I wouldn't be caught dead using one of these Kinpo things, much less buy or own it ! :-) I only own quality handhelds, such as vintage HP's and SHARP's, and that thing doesn't qualify, at all.

Best regards from V.


Thanks for those comments, Namir.
In translation (as in just about everything, I suppose), quality is directly related to time, budget and the skills of whoever is doing the job. Life being what it is, you thus find good translations, bad translations and a huge grey area in between (light gray, medium grey and murky grey sliding into coal-black...).
What makes buying translations particularly frustrating, however (compared with buying, say, paper clips or a washing machine), is the fact that most people are "buying blind". They can't understand Swedish or Swahili -- that's why they commissioned the translation in the first place.
If the texts are from language X into your own language, it's a little easier (maybe). That is, you can see stylistic problems and so on. But can you identify mistakes in e.g., numbers (scary for medical translation)?
If you are buying a translation from your own language into a foreign language, it's a leap of faith (gulp).
What interests me for this particular article is how much effort consumers are prepared to make to understand poorly-translated manuals. Depends on the number of competingproducts, I suppose, and the technical knowledge (and patience!) of the user. But is there a point at which a buyer will simply give up and go to another manufacturer?
Thanks in any case for your help!


Many thanks for that ref, Bill. Very useful!



Indeed! One of my favorite oddball translations of this type is a t-shirt bought in Quebec. The bilingual country-of-origin label says "Made in Turkey" in English; in French it reads "Fabriqué en Dinde" (Dinde = the bird; Turquie is the country).

One basic rule of thumb is to use translation software *only* for inbound translations (i.e., to find out, sort of, what the other guys are up to). That way you (and not your -- potential -- clients) get to laugh at the warts and bumps.

Best practice also decrees that translators work only *into* their native language. This rule gets bent a lot. Sometimes the results are funny, sometimes catastrophic (for image, legal liability, etc.).
Chris Durban

Possibly Related Threads…
Thread Author Replies Views Last Post
  hp prime manuals giancarlo 0 889 07-07-2013, 07:05 AM
Last Post: giancarlo
  The decline of Soviet calculator quality Michael de Estrada 5 1,905 05-31-2013, 02:48 PM
Last Post: Thomas Radtke
  DM-1x Silver vs. DM-1xCC Aluminum quality? bhtooefr 11 3,352 04-14-2013, 07:08 PM
Last Post: bhtooefr
  Gong through the older manuals... Eddie W. Shore 0 929 09-24-2012, 09:17 PM
Last Post: Eddie W. Shore
  50G Printed Manuals Les Koller 25 7,814 07-15-2012, 04:32 PM
Last Post: Software49g
  OT manuals for Olivetti Logos 9 & Casio Fx-191 Brackett 0 1,039 07-09-2012, 09:57 PM
Last Post: brackett
  HP-42S Manuals Kees van der Sanden 3 1,438 03-19-2012, 10:18 PM
Last Post: Matt Agajanian
  Still Looking for HP Manuals! Dave Hicks 5 1,997 03-07-2012, 11:37 PM
Last Post: Allen
  HP manuals, the way they used to be Don Shepherd 23 6,519 03-02-2012, 03:33 PM
Last Post: Kerem Kapkin (Silicon Valley, CA)
  HP-42S Manuals Matt Agajanian 8 2,445 03-01-2012, 05:36 PM
Last Post: Matt Agajanian

Forum Jump: