Some subway signs have incorrect, sloppy translations: report
Navigating subway diversions is hard enough, but poorly translated signs in Chinese neighborhoods make getting around even more fraught for non-English speakers, a new report says.
The study, conducted by the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, blasted the agency for its infrequent posting of signs in other languages and said that those that are put up are riddled with incorrect translations, awful grammar and confusing sentences.
"Finding translated signs is very rare," said the report's author, Shanni Liang, who is fluent in Chinese. "If there is a sign, it's usually mistranslated."
Among the errors Liang found:
* One sign posted this winter used the Chinese characters meaning "building or living area" instead of "uptown," so a straphanger scribbled a correction over it.
* Riders needing to avoid weeknight overnight shutdowns under the MTA's "Fastrack" program were shown signs that said the canceled service is on "work day nights" instead of weeknights -- failing to consider that some New Yorkers work on weekends.
Considering the errors, Liang gave the MTA's signs a grade of "50%."
"I think it's embarrassing to find things mistranslated," she told amNewYork during a vist to the Canal Street station in Chinatown. "I think it shows a lack of respect if you don't translate signs right."
LinguaLinx, the translation company the MTA is paying $24,000 this year, did not return calls for comment. But the MTA said it stood by the company's work, and dismissed the report's findings.
"Something like this is very subjective," said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz, adding that the agency only received three complaints last year -- two of which were submitted by Liang.
"Any time we do get a complaint, we forward it on to the vendor for review and discussion," Ortiz said.
Council Member Margaret Chin, whose district includes Chinatown, said she wrote to the MTA last year, asking it to address "poor conditions" at the Canal Street stop.
"This reports raises a number of concerns about public transportation in majority Asian neighborhoods," Chin said in an email. "These neighborhoods rely heavily on buses and subways, and we must ensure that the MTA is meeting the service needs of ethnic communities throughout our city."
Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York Organization of Chinese Americans, acknowledged "it's not an easy job" for the MTA to translate signs from English to Chinese, but said "if they're going to do it, they should do it right."
"It's an issue of willingness to be inclusive," OuYang said, adding that a bad translation "fuels confusion when it was designed supposedly to eliminate confusion."
The report suggested the MTA create its own computer software to make translated signs, which it said would save the agency money over time.
The original version of this article, along with an accompanying photograph incorrectly stated that a sign that read “waiting area” was wrong due to an error in a report by the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee.