Multilingual beach ball warning

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I spotted this very impressive warning at Siesta Key beach in Sarasota, Florida yesterday morning:

The English at the top is concise and specific, a distinguishing feature that we have observed before, e.g., "French vs. English" (8/2/15).

Aside from the sheer multiplicity of languages represented, what struck me most about the different versions is that they didn't seem to be constrained by the wording of the English, but set off in their own directions to provide a meaningful warning that often added something useful not in the original, but also just as often left out a significant element of the original.  For instance, the Chinese reads:

Zhùyì!  Fēi jiùshēng shèbèi, jǐn gōng zài chéngniánrén jiānhù xià qiǎnshuǐ zhōng shǐyòng.

注意! 非救生设备, 仅供在成年人监护下浅水中使用.

"Notice!  Not a lifesaving device, [should] only be used in shallow water under the supervision of an adult."

I have a feeling that "competent supervision" is not an easy expression to convey in many languages.

Now that I've got the ball rolling….

[Thanks to Katherine Warren and Maiheng Dietrich]


  1. Birion said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 9:35 am

    The Czech is pretty straightforward.

    Upozornění! Používejte jen v přítomnosti kompetentního dozoru.
    Warning! Use only in the presence of competent supervision.

  2. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 9:48 am

    The languages that I recognize are about evenly split between "competent" and "adult", except that Polish has "responsible".

  3. Ivan said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 9:51 am

    The Arabic gets the job done, more or less idiomatically:
    تحذير! تستخدم فقط تحت الإشراف الملائم.
    Warning! Use only under appropriate supervision.

    Russian and Spanish both specify the need for adult supervision.

  4. Andreas Johansson said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 10:04 am

    As Coby said, a bunch of languages use "adult" (also German, Swedish, Dutch, and probably more).

    To tell whether a supervisor was, in the eyes of the law, adult should be easy enough. "Competent" might bring in greater legal fees …

  5. BenHemmens said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 10:27 am

    Or its just that safety regulations in different countries actually focus on different risks/hazards.

  6. cliff arroyo said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 10:47 am

    "except that Polish has "responsible"."

    Or "appropriate" maybe (how I often mentally translate odpowiedni)

    I think some version of adult (dorosły or osoba dorosła) would be more natural.

  7. Ian said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 11:07 am

    The Finnish also specifies adult supervision, but is otherwise concise and grammatical/natural.

  8. Johan P said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 11:22 am

    The Swedish and Hungarian are also both idiomatic and correct. Both also use "adult supervision" rather than "competent".

    Could it be that "competent" has a specific legal meaning in a common law context that is unnecessary to reproduce in languages that suggest other legal systems?

  9. Michael M said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 11:48 am

    Polish definitely translates as 'appropriate supervision', rather than 'responsible supervision', that would be 'odpowiedzialnym'.

    The Arabic also specifies it as 'appropriate', mulā'im, thought it kind of looks like they may have misspelled it as mulānim.

  10. JS said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 11:52 am

    So the real question seems to be what the beach ball manufacturers are doing right that everyone else has yet to figure out…

  11. Tim Martin said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

    The Japanese is similar to the others:

    chuui! kanarazu otona no kanshi no moto de asobasete kudasai.

    Semi-figurative translation:
    Caution! Only let children play with this under adult supervision.

  12. Jen said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 1:36 pm

    But does everyone except the Chinese think that it's still dangerous to play with the ball if no water is involved (e.g. in your back garden), or are speakers of the other languages expected to understand that the message is really not to play *in water* without adult supervision without it being spelt out?

  13. Xmun said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

    Why is Maltese left out? Or did I miss it?

  14. prase said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 2:44 pm

    The Slovak warning has a small problem with diacritics, using apostrophes instead of háčeks. "POUŽÍVAT'IBA" should be "POUŽÍVAŤ IBA" and "DOHL'ADOM" should be "DOHĽADOM". This is quite a common problem, since háček over lowercase ť and ď and both cases ľ, Ľ looks much like an apostrophe. On the other hand, the ball seems to be pretty good at diacritics overall, using even few of the quite rate beasts, such as į or ő (I am nto sure whether correctly, though).

    I only wonder why Greek uses a serifed font while other languages are sans serif.

  15. prase said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 2:49 pm

    @Xmun: and Irish as well. Although it resembles standard EU official languages list, the inclusion of Turkish, Arabic, Russian, Japanese and Mandarin seems to indicate that other criteria were used to select the languages. There are probably no beaches in the Gaeltacht.

  16. Jānis said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 2:49 pm

    Latvian and Lithuanian both indicate supervision by a competent person.

  17. Linda said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

    @prase The Gaeltacht stretches along the west coast and has plenty of fine beaches.

  18. Boursin said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 4:18 pm

    Could it be that "competent" has a specific legal meaning in a common law context that is unnecessary to reproduce in languages that suggest other legal systems?

    It's either that or the most common translational equivalents of "competent" also mean 'qualified', thus suggesting the idea – which is of course ludicrous in this particular context – that there could be some kind of formal qualification to be a supervisor.

    As an English-Finnish translator, I would certainly have avoided the standard translation of "competent" (pätevä) for this reason, and probably plumped for the aikuinen 'adult' seen on the ball.

  19. David Cameron Staples said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 4:27 pm

    A few years ago, Melbourne Trams put up posters featuring just the word "beware" (or nearest equivalent) in multiple languages.

    The languages are identified in the comments, which have the oldest at the bottom and newest at the top, so you have to read from the bottom up for the comments to make any sense.

    (Disclosure: I'm the Catsidhe who made the first comment.)

  20. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 4:29 pm

    Cliff: You're right, I confused odpowiedni with odpowiedzialny.

  21. Brett said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 5:15 pm

    @Boursin: Using "qualified" sounds less silly in American English than British English (although it's still silly either way). In America, "qualified" does not imply that somebody has a formal certification for something the way it does in Britain.

  22. Bloix said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 6:24 pm

    You seem to assume that because the English is first, it's the original (others not "constrained by the wording of the English"). Why assume that? Since the Chinese communicates useful information while the English communicates nothing, perhaps the Chinese is the original?

  23. Victor Mair said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 7:12 pm


    1. The English notice is not only first, it is much larger than the warnings in other languages.

    2. Most of the main information about manufacturing and marketing at the bottom is in English.

    3. I may be wrong about this, but so far as I know, Chinese is the only language that mentions using the ball in shallow water. If Chinese were the original language, one would expect many other versions on the ball to counsel using the ball only in shallow water.

    4. Some of the native informants whom I asked about the Chinese wording told me that they think it is a bit clunky and doesn't read altogether smoothly, although it can certainly be understood without difficulty. If the Chinese were the original language, one would expect it to read more naturally to native speakers.

  24. richardelguru said,

    October 25, 2016 @ 6:11 am

    Strangely, the pictograph at the very bottom (for those who can't read any of the included languages?) seems to suggest that the need for adult/competent supervision is to stop the supervised from inadvisedly standing on the ball.
    Perhaps that was the original?

  25. Terry Hunt said,

    October 25, 2016 @ 12:23 pm

    Re "competent": In (at least) English & Welsh law, a "Competent Person" in a work setting is someone deemed qualified by experience and/or formal training qualifications to safely undertake a specific task, or to supervise others doing so. What that experience and training actually is depends of course on the specifics of the task and the "Best Practice" (another legally meaningful term) in the industry concerned – there are a myriad possibilities, and the specifics of a particular one might only be formally determined by an enquiry following an accident.

    If the concept applies to a purely family recreational setting (e.g. with no professional life guard supervising the activity), I would guess a "Competent Person" to supervise a child's use of a beach ball in water would be considered to be a mentally sound adult. Obviously all legal jurisdictions will vary, but I suspect use of the term "competent" might well have a legal significance in some of them, in this context.

  26. olguin said,

    October 25, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

    i wonder how much more it cost to make with all those warnings. the feds came in and said hey you need that warning in 20 languages or we're shutting you down! who reads the warning on a pool ball anyway? just dumb

  27. Boursin said,

    October 25, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

    the feds came in and said hey you need that warning in 20 languages or we're shutting you down!

    If anyone came along, it was an ambulance-chasing product liability lawyer, not the Feds.

  28. David Marjanović said,

    October 25, 2016 @ 8:34 pm

    who reads the warning on a pool ball anyway?

    Are you capable of looking at a text and not reading any of it, provided you understand the script and the language? I'm not.

  29. philip said,

    October 26, 2016 @ 5:37 am

    Why does a beach ball need to have a warning notice on it? This si getting dangerously close to the event in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish which made one of the characters give up totally on the 'civilised' world. The event was seeing printed instructions on a packet of toothpicks.

  30. Andreas Johansson said,

    October 26, 2016 @ 5:52 am

    Why does a beach ball need to have a warning notice on it?

    Because otherwise the manufacturer is more likely to be successfully sued for damages.

  31. poftim said,

    October 26, 2016 @ 11:32 am

    Happy that Romanian made it! And happy that my Romanian is good enough to know that "supravegherea" should be all one word.

  32. philip said,

    October 26, 2016 @ 11:53 am

    Sued for what? And sued by whom? Firstly, it is very hard to do any damage with a beach ball; they are bouncy and soft. Secondly, the USA may have reached a point where everyone's reaction to accidents is to find someone else to blame and hopefully sue, but is that a good point to have reached? Are there no judges who would throw the beach ball out of court, along with the parrot? Aesthetically, all that text also ruins the pattern of the beach ball. Maybe I should sue for offences against visual art?

  33. Ellen K. said,

    October 26, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

    The picture below all the text on the beachball, and the Chinese warning (translated in the original post) both suggest ways that a beachball could cause a person harm. Standing on it, or using it as a flotation device.

  34. Philip said,

    October 26, 2016 @ 5:31 pm

    read my original post referencing the instructions printed on a packet of toothpicks. When humans have become so stupid/litigious that instructions or warnings are needed on basic or harmless products, we are in a bad state. The beach ball is harmless; it is human stupid use of it that could cause harm – so sue the human, not the product.

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