“Fit for Purpose” , or not Product user instructions?

Where do you even start with the instructions on this padlock - particularly designed for the Social Security???!!!


After many years working for a Japanese company I can understand about 98% of Asian English but some still confounds me. Their ability to communicate without being fluent is quite impressive for the most part.

On balance when ‘Westerners’ translate English and other western languages to Kanji, Kana, etc it is known to be an equally entertaining fail, especially because of the subtle differences in characters, not just the words.

Once a colleague thought he asked a Japanese person ‘How is your wife?’ and the response was ‘Why are you asking about gold mines?’

Some of the posts on the net explain some of it - they use Google translate too :wink:



The users of the many different versions of the English languages have much to answer for.
In some instances we have and use a word with just one very precise unique meaning. More often than not a word has many very different and unrelated meanings. Context is expected to resolve, although mistaken context is also used as the basis of much humour. (Bit, rubber, bolt to suggest a few.)

To translate between different languages where there are not one to one equivalents, can’t be easy in either direction. Especially when there are also differences in the rules of grammar. Colloquial variations are also common across all the English languages.

Exposure over many years to manuals and parts listings for machinery includes manufacture in the US, England, German and French. They all have their idiosyncrasies. Widgets and Spangles included. I’ve my counting board at the ready. :wink:


Looks like it is time for me dig out my Human of edible booklet …

It’s a 26 page booklet that came with a small glass stand-alone fan-forced convection oven.

From Page 7:

Characterless beefsteak
may supply six human of edible
cooking time:
Micro ripe 10 minutes
center ripe 11 minutes
entire ripe 12 minutes
ingredients: Characterless beefsteak 1.6kg, salt, pepper little

  1. Scatter the salt and the pepper on the beefsteak.
  2. Places in the convection oven directly the beefsteak on the baggage shelf. Transfers to 180 the temperature.
    Will roast later to switch off the power source. Again will cross 10 minutes later only then to take out the beefsteak.

From page 15

Roasts potato
may supply four human of edible
cooking time: 30 minutes
ingredients: Potato four (general size, does not peel), the cheese or the butter four small spoons, the salt, the pepper, Garlic’s juice little.

1 Washes cleanly after the potato polishes with the paper goods. Forks some some holes the potato. Again evenly spreads the cheese wipes on the potato. Then salty, the pepper, garlic’s juice scatters on the potato. Finally uses the tin foil to wrap up the potato.
Puts in the convection oven the potato. Roasted 30 minutes with 220 temperatures to be possible.

and one more from page 23

Burns the pork chop

  1. The pork chop 500grams (sliver into blocks)
  2. According to own likes the choice seasoning
    Manufacture method:
  3. Spreads the seasoning on the pork chop and lays aside it an hour.
  4. Roasted with 200 temperatures the pork chop 15 minutes to be ok.

Having lived in China, we were often asked to check English translations for products, manuals and invoices to make sure they made sense. Often we knocked back offers as they were technical in nature and we could have made even more of a mess trying to fix the English.

Often translations are done by local business personnel with limited English skills (only those gained through the education system where English is compulsory) and using a Mandarin-English translation software. Many businesses can’t afford or know how to get Mandarin - English translation by certified translators. They can also be expensive in comparison the the value of a product.

There is also the added complexity that local dialects can also set things more askew than would also normally be the case. Sentence structures are also very different between the two languages.

The result was often amusing to say the least.


Actually, apart from the cheese wipes, that’s comprehensible. Thank you. I’m off to cook some characterless (plain?) beefsteak.
Relying on word-by-word translation got some Cold War operatives in a tangle when they fed into a computer, in English, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. It came out in Russian as, “The vodka is good, but the meat has gone bad”.


Instructions for removing shipping screws for a dot matrix printer (remember those?)

“Take the printer by the one of your hand so it be vartically face to you”…

Curiosity is the world spoken language rankings are a hotbed of disagreement.

The winner of the native spoken language competition is Mandarin Chinese with Spanish a long second, and the multiple versions of English fighting it out with Hindi for a distant third place.

There is a second rate ranking that counts English including it’s use as a second language being the dominant global most spoken language. No comment on whether it is the best or least understood?

As others are admirably demonstrating, English fails miserably as a choice given how easy it is to is miscommunicate when relying upon it.

It’s also useful to note when travelling how many tourism focussed businesses now promote languages other than English in welcoming tourists.

If I was to offer advice to any Australian based representative or importer of foreign made goods. It’s your reputation that is being trashed, not that of the foreign manufacturer. Often though the Aussie end is only evident in the fine print. Should the Australian importers be subject to regulation, penalty and rectification orders. IE Use the strength of our consumer legislation to ensure what might be humorous to some has not overlooked an important safety detail. Assurance the instructions are easily understood.

I’ll add that experience assembling some IKEA products suggests they too are equally capable of improvement.

Rather than appear to target one specific language/nation -
Is the real message in the OP that instructions need to be clear, easily understood and fit for purpose (reliable and address all safety needs)?

To broaden the discussion I’ve edited the topic heading.


Would you define how to ascertain that? For example I have a clause from a Chinese origin product that states ‘…will be on the display with glitter’. I was instantly able to understand it meant it will be flashing. Would that pass the test?

If so, would it pass the test for those using English as a second or third language?

The goal seems so self evident yet an implementation would be difficult to quantify whether something passed or not. It would be subjective and probably obvious to a large majority if ‘it’ passed scrutiny for the purpose intended but how do you quantify that in a code for a diverse audience?


Is the answer to that to be found elsewhere?

If it were not of interest or a concern for some, would it have been raised at all as an observation or for discussion?

Whether there is a universal solution, a picture may or may not be worth a thousand words? In the following example it also offers a thousand words, if one is interested. The QR codes as well as the initial set up both lead to the alternatives of short instructional videos or viewable/downloadable pdf docs.

It’s not immediately evident if the quality of the alternate language versions are up to the task. One might expect the Mandarin* is near perfect. As for any English language related content, it reflects the preferences of the largest English speaking market - USA.

SZ DJI Technology Co, Ltd is based in Shenzhen China for those less aware of their products.


Years ago, CHOICE tested a selection of portable mp3 players ( iPod alternatives ). One was particularly cheap and nasty. Among the system settings was one labelled as “Darkle”. A few different staff played around with it, but we never did figure out what that setting was for, or whether it even did anything ( I suspect not ).


If you ever played Monty Python’s Complete Waste of Time you would understand. :rofl:



God Bless Ikea.
And, high note of praise to the EU for the item description and warning labels in 24 languages attached to each item. One example being a laundry detergent label ‘The contents of this packet is not food’. I’m guessing that each language is as clear and concise as the few I am able to read.


In the the case of this Soiet ? lock ( couldn’t find this make online) it’s fairly easy to understand that it’s a tamper proof lock suitable for home, office, etc.
In this case there’s no risk involved if the translation is not the best one.

Books have been published about amusing translations from many languages. A translation that comes to mind is a phrase from a European language meaning ‘to show someone the way’ being literally translated into English as: ‘I’ll make you street’ :joy:


Ask me the questions, bridgekeeper. I am not afraid. :grimacing:


I am crying laughing here. Reminds me of a heated conversation with an angry French lock keeper on google translate. He lost the argument when I dissolved into laughter on reading the transcript he had just dictated.