Fake sign language and Woody Allen.





Hearing voices.



These were reasons cited by Thamsanqa Jantjie for the sign language debacle at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

His sign language looked more like a Justin Beiber routine than actual communication for the deaf. I kept expecting to see the hand-heart move


beiber hand heart


Watch this video of Jantjie alongside a vetted sign language pro.


It’s sad.


Whereas the focus should be on the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela, we’re talking about a supposed fake who may or may not have also been involved in rape, murder, theft and kidnapping.


So what’s the takeaway here?

What can we learn from this?


First, we need to improve our due diligence.

I imagine protecting the president is a thankless and mind-numbingly stressful job, but we should ensure that anyone who is scheduled to stand next to POTUS… isn’t a schizophrenic on medication for hearing voices and hallucinations.


Safety pros call this a near-miss.

Nothing bad happened (at least to Obama in a physical sense), but it could have.

We got lucky.

This clown could have botched Mandela’s funeral and taken down a sitting president.

We must do better.


Second, we must acknowledge Woody Allen’s rule of success: 80% of success is showing up. 


Someone didn’t show up here.

Someone was sick the day they confirmed the validity of Thamsanqa Jantjie’s signing skills.


Skype, a 200-word script, and a single deaf person could have easily been assembled to test Jantjie’s signing skills in real-time. This is low-hanging fruit. 


At Red Angle, we guarantee our translations.




We translate a sample portion of the desired text or video and schedule time for the actual employees – the intended audience – to review it for accuracy.


How do we get around dialects and regional slang?


We aim for CNN Spanish, the Spanish language used on CNN to broadcast to Spanish-speakers all over the Americas. It’s like how Good Morning America uses English terms and a “non-accent” that is understood in Boston, Austin, and Seattle.


Everyone understands it.

The language crosses regional and ethnic differences.


That being said, there is “Construction Spanish” that is used around the country.

It could be considered slang.

It’s how construction workers speak on the job.

So that’s how we translate the content for Clients.



Try before you buy. 


Include a clause in all your translation contracts to allow your team to review a sample of the translation work prior to payment.

Ask for video testimonials from existing clients of the translation firm attesting to their language expertise.


As Woody Allen would have said, “Show up.

You should verify any vendor’s expertise.


Maybe there are good reasons for Thamsanqa Jantjie’s odd behavior.

Maybe not.


I believe Nelson Mandela would have encouraged judgment without all the facts.

And forgiveness.


As this story cycles out of the news, let’s learn something from it.


Due diligence is critical.

Don’t overlook obvious threats that should be reviewed by others.

Try before you buy.

Ask for testimonials.


Show up.



Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish (and a bit of Polish…) language gap in the construction industry.    

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