When an English “Smoking is Allowed” Sign is Placed in a Russian “No Smoking” Area

In Russian it says, “No Smoking,” in Ukrainian it is “Smoking is not allowed,” and in English it is mistranslated to “Smoking Allowed.” The good news is that there might be only a few English speakers who drop by the place. Or maybe not.

Signs with translations are placed in prominent places to remind people or to warn them not to do things. The sign itself is ominous because the original is in Russian. In Russia smoking is still a prevalent social practice. It should be noted that in a culture where smoking is acceptable and may pass as the norm, these kinds of signs only appear in places where there is potential danger, like flammable materials, or in construction areas and storage facilities.

This is one fairly common mistranslation. It is common with other countries as well. The sign implies several things: the administrators want to communicate in a second (or third) language, usually English; there seems to be a fair number of foreign visitors to the place; and fluency or literacy in English is not very common in the area.

These mistranslations can be avoided via consultation with an interpreter, or a translator. At worst, someone fluent in English could have assisted and corrected the sign before it was printed and put up. If there is a danger to the place to warrant such a sign, then it should also warrant a careful and proper checking before it was made.

As mentioned above, this type of mistranslation occurs almost universally. A warning sign is mistranslated into the opposite of what it warns about. A “smoking allowed” reminder in a “no smoking” zone is one mistake which should go through a quality check. Unfortunately, while it is needed in a lot of instances, no effort is made to check the sign, because it is so common in the first place.

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