Spanish for Professional Purposes...

...for teachers and students who see the need for Spanish language and Hispanic cultures knowledge in professional contexts.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why Translations Are So Tough...

Too often, we assume that a few semesters of Spanish qualify one to translate, especially if it's something simple like signs or labels. It's only after a few more semesters that it sinks in how impossibly hard that can be--and a new respect for the highly specialized discipline of translation is born.

Here's one example of a sign in a park that was translated to Spanish: 

jardín de las familias de plantas con flores

Is this a garden full of things from the family of plants that flower in the spring?

Is it a garden with flowering plants in it for families to enjoy together?

Is it like a Rose Bowl parade float in which a mom, dad and some children have been constructed out of flowers?

Some snooping around on the Internet, yields these options for flowering plants: "plantas que dan flores," "plantas que florecen," "plantas que presentan flores."

If it's a garden for families to enjoy, it should probably be a "jardín de familia" or "jardín familiar" (but that might imply that the garden belongs to the family that cultivated it and "jardín para familias" might be better).

At a recent presentation on translation, Mike Doyle (who is certified by the American Translator's Association to both English to Spanish and Spanish to English translations) talked about the importance of being "biliterate" and not just "bilingual"--and these examples show why. We need the lens of literacy to understand and convey meaning. And in the world of translation, being faithful to the spirit of the words is as important and changing the words directly from one language into the other.

So in the end, the English-language sign in the park says "family flower garden," but what is the best way to say that in Spanish? It's certainly not as simple as looking up those three words in a dictionary!

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