Home » October 2008

Archive for October, 2008

Bilingual and Bicultural

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Many people think that anyone who speaks a second language would make a good translator. It’s not enough however, for the translator to just be bilingual. He or she must be “bicultural” as well.

Understanding their “second language’s” culture is a must for translators. A professor from University used to tell us: “Navidad is an easy word to translate: we look it up in the dictionary and there it is: Christmas. But phrases like “Christmas mood” (humor o atmósfera de Navidad) or “Christmas landscape” (paisaje navideño) are not going to express the same sentiment in Spanish (or Finnish, or Russian…) as they do in English, given that the whole “Christmas experience” is not the same in every country. While Christmas is celebrated in the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere, the U.S. and other European countries with their falling snow and various traditions have a very different experience.

Having a dictionary is not enough for translating well. It is not only about translating words. For example, you could learn the words poner and pilas, but still not understand the meaning of the idiom ponerse las pilas. One also has to know about the particular phrases that require one special combination of terms (collocations) and not another: though people would most likely understand Prospera Navidad, this combination, while not technically “wrong,” would sound as strange as Happy Christmas or Merry Birthday.
One must take cultural references into account. A friend once had the task of translating a book for veterinarians in which there were instructions for a certain procedure for rabbits that had to be done “in January and February.” But if this was translated for the southern hemisphere, then January and February (summer in the southern hemisphere) would be the wrong time of year, with who knows what consequences for the poor animals.  (In this situation, she decided to add “in the northern hemisphere” in parentheses and let the veterinarians figure out that it should be done in July-August if they are in the southern hemisphere.)


Spanish Words in English

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

With so much often said about the infiltration of English into the Spanish language, one often forgets that borrowed words and loan words are a two-way street. United States English has its share of linguistic contributions from Spanish, words that come from Mexico, Cuba, Spain and beyond. The two most common classifications are foreign words, which maintain the original meaning and spelling, and true loan words, which have the same or a similar meaning, but with an adapted spelling.

Foreign words– these are Spanish words that most English speakers will understand, though probably pronounce with a dubious accent.

“There’s a fiesta at Brody’s house tonight!

“Easy there macho man!”

“Don’t you know I’m loco?

Loan words- these are words that originate from Spanish, but have a different spelling, different meaning, or both.

“I’ll have a strawberry daiquiri.” (The word daiquiri comes from the name of a town in Cuba, which is a leading producer of rum and was once home to the Bacardi brand.)

“My dream is to go skiing in Colorado.” (Colorado means reddish or colored in Spanish.)

“I want a Corona and some nachos.” (As the story goes, the chips and cheese snack known as Nachos was invented by an Ignacio Anaya. Nacho is the Spanish nickname for Ignacio.

These are just a few of the many, many examples of Spanish’s influence on the English language. So the next time you’re having nachos and a daiquiri in Colorado, be thankful that the English Only locos are fighting a losing battle.


A Story

Friday, October 24th, 2008


The same thing always happened to him. When someone translated one of his poems into a foreign language (at least, a foreign language that he knew), his own verses sounded better than in the original. This is why it came as no surprise that he found the French version of his poem “Time and the bell” amazing, graceful and full of substance.

Two years later, an Italian translator who did not know Spanish translated that French version. Although he had never been a big supporter of indirect versions (keeping in mind however that this is how he had been introduced to Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Confucius years before), he greatly enjoyed his poem” in italico modo.”

Another three years passed and an English translator who, like most English translators, did not know Spanish based his translation on the Italian version based on the French version. Despite being so far from the original, it was the most pleasing to the original Spanish speaking author. It just surprised him a bit (he actually attributed it to a printing error) that this new indirect version was entitled “Burnt Norton” and that the name of the alleged author was a T.S. Eliot. Nevertheless, he liked it so much that he decided to personally take on the task of translating it into Spanish.

Mario Bendetti

in Cuentos Completos (Ed. Seix Barral 1994, p.497)
Mario Bendetti (born in Uruguay in 1920) is described as a poet who also writes stories and novels. His novel La tregua (1960), whose cinematic version was nominated for an Oscar in 1974, has been translated into 19 languages. He has published over 80 books and earned countless awards.


The Future of Spanish in the U.S.

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

The general consensus about Spanish in the U.S. is that its use, in terms of the number of speakers and general “visibility” (mainstream media, advertising, etc.), is growing exponentially. And with record numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants coming from South and Central America, it looks like this will continue indefinitely. So, there is no doubt that thousands, millions of Spanish speakers are going to the U.S; the question, however, is this: Does the Spanish that immigrants take with them take root in the U.S or is it ultimately lost?

With more than thirty-five million people in the U.S. speaking Spanish as their main language at home, its use is certainly more than a blip on English’s radar. Add the large number of English speakers studying Spanish, be it in elementary school, at college, or as part of job training (medical professionals, govt. workers, etc.), and you have a very significant portion of the U.S. population with at least a basic ability to communicate in Spanish. Bilingual education programs are bigger now than they have ever been before, and businesses and corporations are spending more money than ever on bilingual advertising. So why is there any doubt?

For one, studies have shown that Spanish is rarely passed on to third generation Hispanics in the U.S. Children that do learn both languages at a young age generally have a much greater proficiency in English than in Spanish, due to the educational system and sheer exposure to English. History has also shown that even large numbers of immigrants cannot maintain a language that is not passed down by the generations. German, for example, was once widely-spoken in the U.S., but due to events like World War I and II, immigration reform, etc., the current number of German speakers in the U.S. has dwindled to tiny enclaves.

So will the use of Spanish in the United States ultimately rise, fall or hold steady? That remains to be seen.


The Translation of the Most Widely Read Book in the World

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Just two weeks after Translator’s Day, which is celebrated on the anniversary of Saint Jerome’s death as a tribute to him having been the first to translate the Bible into Latin, an agreement was reached at the Vatican in favor of further translation and distribution of the most widely book in history.  According to the recent announcement, the Bible (which means “books” in the Greek biblia, the plural of biblion meaning “papyrus roll for writing”) has already been translated into 2454 languages with about 4500 to go. Saint Jerome’s translation into Latin was called the Vulgate (from vulgata editio, edition for the people), and served as the Roman Catholic Church’s official Biblical text until the transmission of the Neovulgata in 1979.

The Authorized King James version is an English translation of the Bible that was first published in 1611 and has had a tremendous influence not just on later English Bible translations, but also on English literature and works from John Bunyan, John Milton, Herman Melville, John Dryden and William Wordsworth. In the United States,  this version is most commonly known as the King James Version, while in the United Kingdom it is known as the Authorized Version.

The first translation of the Bible into Spanish was done in 1280 and was called the Biblia Alfonsina, but was not a finished work; this was done with the Biblia del Oso (Bible of the bear, because of the animal on the cover) in 1569.  Amongst other versions, Saint Jerome’s version was translated into Spanish in 1793.

The Koran appears to be the second most widely spread book, and while it has indeed been translated into many languages, Muslims consider them to be “interpretive glossaries,” which is why they don’t have much influence in the debates about their meanings or command nearly the same attention as the books written in Arabic:  they are considered to be common books. The first translation of the Koran into Latin was done in 1143.


Translators and the Presidential Election

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

The United States has long prided itself on being a “melting pot” of different cultures and backgrounds and this becomes especially apparent amidst talk of the different voter demographics and the pledges made to different ethnic groups. Apart from the Spanish translations that I mentioned before on McCain and Obama’s websites, something caught my eye the other day that seemed to be a true sign of the times.

It’s a website (http://my.barackobama.com/page/group/TranslatorsforObama) called Translators for Obama, and it employs a wiki-style approach towards translating Obama’s speeches and important articles already on the web, as well as subtitling and dubbing commercials and audio clips into a number of languages. Members can provide their own translations and information in any language they can. Links to Spanish, Chinese and Arabic translations are all available, plus related content in a myriad of languages. As the site’s creators themselves put it, they are “limited only by the number of languages [their] members know.”

Political parties aside, the most inspirational aspect of this to me is the ability to get a group of translators to unite (pro bono even!) and work together towards contributing something they believe will make a difference.


A Little Bit of History: The First Latin-American Interpreter

Friday, October 10th, 2008

She is known by many names: Malinalli, Malintzin(Spanish transliterations of her original name– the tzin suffix was added to indicate hierarchy and nobility), “Doña Marina,” or most commonly, La Malinche. Malineli Tenepatl (c.1502 – c.1529), a Mexican girl born into the upper class, was presented to Mayan chiefs in Tabasco following a war between the Mayans and Aztecs. As a result of this situation she fluidly spoke both her native language, Nahuatl, and the language of her new owners, Mayan.

The chiefs gave the young slave to Hernán Cortés after he defeated the Tabascans at the Battle of Centla. Cortes christened her “Marina” and gave her to one of his captains. Upon learning that she spoke Nahuatl, he began to use her as a Nahuatl-Mayan interpreter, with Jerónimo de Aguilar (a Spanish survivor of a shipwreck who was freed from captivity by Cortés) completing the circle by translating Mayan into Spanish. All of the exchanges between the Spanish and Aztecs were carried out in this manner, using three languages and two interpreters, until Malintzin learned Spanish: it is most likely that this did not take very long, based on the fact the indigenous records usually leave out Jerónimo de Aguilar and reference Malintzin as having been the sole interpreter.

Apart from serving as interpreter, Malintzin advised the Spanish on the local customs and military tactics, possibly performing what would today be called “intel” and “diplomacy.”

There are many legends and conjectures about Malinche, but the facts are harder to come by. The Spanish word “Malinchismo” is derived from her name, a term meaning a preference for something foreign over local, to want to appear foreign over Mexican, and opportunistic and willing to betray one’s own country to aid foreigners. The reality however is that as an orphan passed between tribes and countries, Malintzin did not have a country to sell.

A few people also consider Malinche to be the “First Mother of Mexico,” initiating the birth of a country and in a more general sense, motherhood itself.


How to Select a Good Translation Agency

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Cheap and fast are the first two words that go through most people’s minds when they start looking for a translation agency. But when they read over the first translation that they had done based solely on those two criteria, they’ll probably rethink the whole idea and realize that “quality” was actually what they were looking for. This is a little guide on how to avoid these situations when selecting who is going to do your English or Spanish translation.

Quality translations can be cheap and they can have good turnaround times, no doubt about it. The trick is finding these translation companies. There are essentially two key factors that will give you a top-notch translation: the skills of the translators and the translation process used at the company.

Try and find out how the company chooses its translation team and see if they have native English and Spanish speakers on staff. See if they have specialists in the medical, legal, engineering or whatever field you need. A lot of translation projects are doomed before they get started because an uncle’s friend is “fluent” and is asked to take the job instead of a professional translation agency.

A good translation is not a one-step process. Ideally, you will have native speakers translating, editing and proofreading your document or project. Read over the company’s process and see how they do things. If the company hasn’t listed this information on it’s company website, move on to the next.

There’s no getting around the price. It is extremely important. And the best translation companies do offer low price translations because they know what they’re doing and have the best translators following a quality translation process. So do a little homework on the English and Spanish translation company and you will see the results pay off ten-fold.


The Painstaking Task of Rereading your Translation

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Personally, one of the things about translating that gets under my skin is having to check over it once I’m done. I hate it. But after a few jobs where I wanted to bang my head against the wall because I hadn’t gone back over it and spotted my stupid mistake (but of course someone else did, and was kind enough to point it out to me)…..Well, let’s just say that I accepted that reviewing translations is a must and cannot be avoided. And it may seem unnecessary if our translation is going to be revised by an editor, but isn’t it better for us to correct our errors before they do?

My solution? I always try to leave at least a couple of minutes before delivery time for going back over it. 10 or 15 minutes is plenty. The first three or four minutes are to relax: I finished the job. I’m no longer looking for words, I’m not after that exact phrase. I’m done translating. I go to the kitchen for some juice, maybe eat an apple, or step out on the balcony for some fresh air. And then I come back to face the final step.

I run spell check (for Word documents, which are the most common for me), which is necessary and helpful. But you have to remember that it’s not perfect: spell check doesn’t know when “sí” needs an accent and when it doesn’t, when you want to say “tale” or “tall” or when you’ve mistakenly written “his high-heels.” You have to reread the text, there’s no way around it. Sit down and read it closely and carefully. The little break between translating and reviewing helps you distance yourself from it a bit, making it seem “newer.” Being so into the text causes our eyes to play tricks on us, leading us to believe that we had written evrey word perfectly…


Please contact us today to see how we can make your job easier.
Toll Free: 1 877 255-0717

Sitemap - ©2006 Spanish Translation US