Al Arabiya interpreter goes viral for questionable error in King Charles III speech

Everybody makes mistakes, but it surely stings a bit more when that mistake is broadcast on live television.

An interpreter working for the Dubai-based news channel Al Arabiya likely learned that lesson this past week after accidentally leading an audience to believe that King Charles III was pleased to announce the death of his mother. Footage of the interpreter’s slip of the tongue has attracted attention on Arabic-language social media, with many making light of the situation, though one Egyptian publication called it a “terrible” mistake that “stunned” viewers.

At his accession council ceremony following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the incoming king said: “It is my most sorrowful duty to announce to you the death of my beloved mother, the queen.” When the interpreter rendered the phrase “It is my most sorrowful duty…” into Arabic, however, he instead used the phrase “…أنا في غاية السعادة,” literally meaning “I am very happy…” 

Most laughed off the mistake, posting memes on Twitter or chiming in with a witty retort, but the Egyptian outlet Sada Elbalad took a more serious tone in an article titled “Al Arabiya Interpreter Makes Terrible Mistake during King Charles III Speech.

“A viral video making its rounds on social media offers showed [sic] the translator’s [sic] failure to interpret the speech properly into Arabic,” reads the article. “The viewers were left stunned by the words they heard from the interpreter who said: ‘I am very happy that my mother, Queen Elizabeth, has passed away.’”

Sada Elbalad’s failure to accurately distinguish an interpreter from a translator notwithstanding, it probably was indeed a bit surprising to witness in real time. Still, it’s important to be more sympathetic to the interpreter than Sada Elbalad was — it’s a funny mistake, but probably not worth the attention the publication’s given it. After all, mistakes happen and, in the grand scheme of things, this one had a fairly minor impact, unlike some of the other mistakes in translation and interpreting that MultiLingual has reported on in the recent past. 

When government agencies fail to translate information adequately, this can have a measurably negative impact on speakers of minority languages who aren’t proficient in the dominant language of their place of residence. On the other hand, this instance of mistranslating a foreign political figure’s relatively minor utterance is fairly inconsequential. To call this a “terrible mistake” ultimately encourages a level of shaming disproportionate to the error’s actual effect on the audience.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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