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Spanish phrases and words #16

From Chris Royston, regular collaborator here at Into Spanish Translation Blog:

Here are some anatomy related idioms — specifically the hand. "Llevar el corazón en la mano" literally translates to "To carry the heart in the hand". The equivalent in English is "To wear one's heart on one's sleeve".

In English, when we're nervous we "Bite our nails". In Spanish one would "bite one's knuckles" as in "Comerse (morderse) los nudillos".

"No se chupa el dedo" means "He doesn't suck his finger". The colloquial equivalent in English is "He wasn't born yesterday" or "There are no flies on him".

When someone abuses a courtesy or an indulgence, we say "Give him an inch and he'll take a mile". The Spanish counterpart is "Dale un dedo y se tomará hasta el codo", which literally means "Give him a finger and he'll take up to the elbow".

Thanks Chris, speaking about biting one’s nails I’d say that the literal Spanish equivalent “comerse / morderse las uñas” is a bit more common in Spain at least, actually because a lot of people do bite their nails out of nervousness...

Want more? Don't hesitate to visit Colloquial Spanish blog!



Spanish phrases and words #15

From Chris Royston, regular collaborator here at Into Spanish Translation Blog:

Codfish (bacalao) has an important historical role in Iberian history. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in idioms. "Te conozco bacalao aunque vienes (vengas) disfrazado" literally translates to "I know you codfish even though you come disguised". The equivalent phrase in English is "I can see straight through you" or "You can't fool me". Another idiom is "Cortar (partir) el bacalao" which literally means "To cut up (divvy up) the codfish". The colloquial meaning is "To be the boss".

Want more? Don't hesitate to visit Colloquial Spanish blog!



Accurate translations?

When it comes to translation, the term that most people use for defining a good one is "accurate." In most people's minds, an accurate translation is a quality translation.

But is it really?
That's the question, and it inevitably leads us to the next one:

What is an accurate translation anyway?

An accurate translation is one that faithfully conveys the meaning of the original text. A potato is a potato and a tomato is a tomato.

So that's it, that's what I call a quality translation

You can call that a quality translation. You can indeed set the standard there and leave it at that. In fact, in my experience, this is where most translation agencies and translators set their quality standard.

But that is not what I call a quality translation

In fact, I wouldn't even call that a translation at all. In my mind, a translation must absolutely speak to the reader in his or her own language, instead of merely using words existing in his or her own language. And a translation can be accurate and completely bypass this requirement. Think of a company slogan translated from a foreign language along these lines: "We are the experts of computers of the world." It is accurate, it uses legitimate English words, it carries no misspellings and it conveys the message perfectly. But sadly, it also conveys the following unexpected message: "We are an amateur company and we do not care enough for our prospective customers to take the pains of choosing a quality translation provider who will talk to them in their language rather than perfectly defensible, faithful, correctly spelled and accurate gibberish."

I recently read a professional translator's remarks acknowledging that oftentimes he could see that a sentence he had just translated sounded unnatural and clumsy in his native language, but since it did the trick and conveyed the meaning he would just move on to the next sentence. Thinking of a better, more suitable and natural alternative would have taken him a lot of time. This is understandable given the time-sensitive nature of many a translation project, but let us see if there is more to it than meets the eye.

A quality translation is an idiomatic translation

An idiomatic translation is one that is not only accurate, but sounds like an original, as if it was not translated but originally created in the reader's language. This is real translation, translation as it was always meant to be, translation of ideas and intentions, not just words, into correct, natural and polished language.

I do confess that I can spend up to five or ten minutes with a single sentence, trying to find a more natural sounding alternative to translate it into Spanish. But I can also say that this happens to me less and less often. See, I have been systematically striving to find the most suitable Spanish renderings since I first started professionally translating, to the outcome that now my brain is trained to do this and it does it more and more naturally, quickly and effectively.

Now I don't intend to position myself as a perfect translator and do not consider myself as necessarily more talented than others. It is a question of talent, but it is also and mainly a question of dedication. I've decided not to allow any awkward translations in my work, whatever it takes. And as I said, it doesn't demand so much effort from me anymore, since I would say that consistent practice has pushed my brain's performance and speed in this regard. Sometimes I can produce up to 5,000 words of what I consider as idiomatic, ready to publish translated material in a single day. Admittedly, this is the case for subjects that I truly master and demand little to no terminological research from me. But just to prove the point that idiomatic translation, when approached in a stubborn, tenacious and consistent way will not slow you down, but actually quicken and polish your capabilities and increase your productivity in the short to medium term. Hey, I've only been translating full-time since 2003, so I am not really at the end of my translation career.

Tips for an idiomatic Spanish translation

1. Consistently read with a critical eye lots of different materials in Spanish, such as newspapers, technical, business and advertising materials. Literature from the best Spanish language authors doesn't hurt either, let alone specific works on writing style and correctness (do Grijelmo, Lázaro Carreter, Martínez de Sousa or Seco ring a bell?) And no, translation studies and translation experience are not enough if you don't delve deep into what these experts have to say, on your own initiative and motivation.

2. Never give up on a wishy-washy translated sentence. Keep thinking until you find that one expression that you would have used if you were the original writer, not the translator, of that particular sentence. Take pride in what you do. Can a stupid sentence really defeat you as a translator? If you can't absolutely think of anything right now, mark the spot with asterisks or something else, proceed to the next sentence and come back to the trouble spot later. Eventually the happy idea will come, and you will be so glad that you didn't miss the opportunity of stretching your skill as a translator.

3. Once you finish translating, take as long a break as you can (you can do other things in the meantime) and come back to thoroughly review your translation later. Look out for any remaining weak spots and eliminate them. If you need to change the order of a sentence so it sounds natural, by all means do it. Do whatever it takes to guarantee an idiomatic translation. Once the review stage is over, do perform a spell check. No matter how conscientiously you reviewed your work, chances are you overlooked a couple of typos. Don't let any remain in such a polished copy. However, take this with a grain of salt. Remember that you are the language expert, and that Microsoft Word certainly isn't. If you are in doubt, research the issue a little bit (the experts at #1...)

4. That's it! You can now deliver your translation in all peace of mind, and you will be better equipped to face the next one.



Permalink 06:14:46 pm, Categories: For professional translators, English-Spanish phrases of the week, 242 words  

Spanish phrases and words #14

From Chris Royston, weekly collaborator here at Into Spanish Translation Blog:

Poultry get a lot of attention in Spanish idioms. Here are some involving rooster (gallo) and hen (gallina):

- "Gallo" can mean phlegm. Reminds one of the phrase in English "I have a frog in my throat" which in Spanish is "Tengo carraspera".

- In English, when we're out of our element, we say "Like a fish out of water". In Spanish the equivalent is "Estar como gallina en corral ajeno", which literally translates to "To be like a hen in a foreign coop".

- When a wife rules the roost, in English we say "The wife wears the pants in that family". A Spanish equivalent is "En casa de Gonzalo más puede la gallina que el gallo", which literally means "In Gonzalo's house more power has the hen than the rooster".

Thanks Chris! Yes, there's also a closer Spanish version with "En esa familia, la mujer lleva los pantalones", and it's used fairly often. But of course this version doesn't involve poultry... Another related Spanish saying is "Ser un gallito" —literally, "To be a little rooster"— which can be very legitimately translated as "To be cocky". And calling somebody "gallina" (hen) is the same than calling someone a chicken in English.

Actually, "pollo" (chicken) is used in many funny Spanish sayings, but that will probably be something to explore in a future post!

Want more? Don't hesitate to visit Colloquial Spanish blog!



Permalink 06:31:59 pm, Categories: Miscellanea, 272 words  

I'm a self-proclaimed spammer

I am lately receiving some spam messages that leave me dumbfounded and flabbergasted (what a great couple of words). After delivering some completely worthless message (which is not the part that amazes me), the "author" goes on to explain how to proceed if I want to stop receiving these messages. In an effort to ponder the meaning of each and every one of these words of spam talk (and believe me, each one is a jewel worth careful study), I am going to try and translate that message from Spam to English language. I'll spare you the "body content" part of the message and just show the "invitation":

If you want to delete your site from our spam bases - just email us with domain of your site:
thank you!

And my English translation:

We keep databases with the express and sole purpose of spamming, and we are quite proud to say so openly. We have included you in this spam database of ours, and this gives us the right to regularly send you worthless messages. Since we assume that you have nothing better to do in your workday than sending unsubscribe messages to people who want to spam you, we are going to spam you to death unless you take the time to unsubscribe from something you didn't ever subscribe to. Oh, and if you ever do unsubscribe, we consider this as most impolite and rude on your part. If you still want to go ahead, you can abuse us at this address: However, we will be polite in return and say a big thank you!


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