Mistranslations may be funny, but damage your reputation

At a recent seminar for an MA degree in translation at University of Salford, Manchester, I asked the students to explain how the following mistranslations would be interpreted by potential customers: In a Bangkok dry cleaners: Drop your trousers here for best results Outside a Hong Kong dress shop: Ladies have fits upstairs Although these caused great hilarity for the students, who immediately appreciated that the translations suffered from being more literal than grammatically correct, understanding how the target language of a translation is understood by native speakers requires nuance only gained from experience. So why do people treat translations so lightly, and what are the consequences? Clearly, when you don’t understand how your translation will be read by the target audience you don’t give the translation as much attention as you should. The consequences though are more serious than just causing amusement, as the quality of your products and services are called into question. The examples above are just small samples of translations found by people while on holiday. They contain most of the right elements, but they are certainly not right, rather like the famous television sketch says “all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order”. What impact would such sloppy translation have if included in your company brochures, documents, leaflets or manuals? To have your customers point out the problems with your translation such as spelling and grammatical errors will leave them with an impression of lacking professionalism. They may well think you are taking on tasks beyond your capabilities, thinking that they are behaving as Del Boys. The image on the left shows an English owned shop selling to Spanish natives, where the English is clear. However, for Spanish customers they get to read ‘Plug socket of the Hotel Furniture’ which is a mistranslation of the word outlet, compounded by grammatical errors. David Jason (Del Boy Trotter) would be proud of this, but if you don’t want to be seen as a Wide Boy, you should get a proper translation done. Good quality translation requires a comprehensive knowledge of the source language in general, but also of particular trade of professional nuances that alter general meanings. Having a nuanced understanding of the target language is by far the most important aspect of translation and is the area where a translation becomes a gaff. Translators who have a native understanding of the target...

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Is European Spanish similar enough to Latin American?

The question of how similar European Spanish is to Latin American variations comes up quite often. Customers approach a translation company or translator and they may, at times, be asked the same question. So what is the answer? Let me turn the question on its head and ask it in a way you the reader may understand. Imagine you have a brochure or document to be translated in English and you are asked UK or US English? Would you write a different brochure or document for another English speaking country? Wait a minute people say! Latin American Spanish differs a little from European Spanish, true, but so does UK English from US English, for example, honor and honour, color and colour, potato and potato (slightly different pronunciation), pavement and sidewalk, etc. Would you have a film made in Australia or the US dubbed into English UK, the answer is no. It is the same in the Spanish speaking world, a film made in Spain can be shown in its original format to audiences in Latin America and vice versa. Literature interchange also takes place within the Spanish speaking world without having to make any changes. Commerce and other activities take place between Spain and Spanish speaking countries, and a Spanish speaking person travelling to any other Spanish speaking country will not require the services of an interpreter or even a translator. The Spanish language is regulated by the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy). All Spanish speaking countries have a Real Academia Española, and together they regulate the Spanish language – there are not two different Spanish Languages just like there are not two English Languages. Natural variations in language usage occur between cities and regions in England and in Spain, and even between cities and villages in the same region. Would you really like your brochure or document translated into Yorkshire or Derbyshire English? Some Latin American countries use the seseo for the spoken word (pronouncing the letter c as s), this also happens in some Spanish regions, particularly Andalusia and the Canary Islands, however, the written word does not change. You see, people have accents, even within the same country, but the written word doesn’t. In summary, will a Spanish person or company from Spain require the services of a translator or interpreter to communicate with another person or company from any other Spanish speaking country? The answer is invariably no, and...

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