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True friends

Last week I talked about "false friends" between English and Spanish, which can create serious translation errors. But if there are false friends, one would assume that there must be true friends too, right? Even if linguistic studies don't really talk much about that. Let's see if we can come up with similar words in English and Spanish which would actually carry the same meaning:


And these are just a few examples starting with the "A" letter! If we generalize from here, we can safely say that most similar English-Spanish words actually mean the same. Interestingly, this is exactly what poses the biggest problem. If all English-Spanish couples of similar words meant the same thing, there wouldn't be an issue. If less than half of them meant the same thing, translators would use a lot of caution. However, if most of them mean the same, one can easily be lulled into a false sense of security and happily translate all English words into their similar Spanish counterparts—or vice versa—and create many nonsensical or wrong translations. This is one other reason why translation requires a high degree of training and experience, plus a strong eye for detail and a systematic doubting or questioning frame of mind...



Funny translation of the week #15

Continental Airlines crashes in Spanish...

Continental Airlines Spanish page

I have highlighted in yellow the most glaring and serious errors. You get 4 awful misspellings—an educated Spanish speaker would never make those 4 errors, let alone a professional translator who is also a native Spanish-speaker—and the title was left in English. Generally speaking, the Spanish translations on this website are substandard, and most pages mix English with Spanish. This should be some proof that it's not only the small companies who are looking for a cheap translator or do their translations in-house who can end up with poor translations. I would tend to think that CA gave some thought to their website's Spanish version and tried to get it right, but it was their translation provider who failed them. There are indeed some translation agencies out there whose marketing promises go far beyond what they can actually deliver. So not even big companies are safe from bad translations, especially when they are at the beginning of their learning curve on the translation front...



False friends

As every professional and skilled Spanish translator knows, similar words in English and Spanish are something to be handled with caution. This is indeed one of the great sources of pitfalls in English to Spanish translations. Why you ask? Because without double checking and a healthy dose of self-doubt one could happily translate an English word into a similar Spanish word, feel very comfortable about it, but convey an inaccurate or even utterly wrong meaning. Similar words in two languages that carry completely different meanings are known as false friends or false cognates. Some English-Spanish false friends have reached the hall of fame and created many hilarious and/or embarrassing situations. The word "embarrassed" and its Spanish false friend "embarazada"—meaning pregnant—are actually one of these acclaimed couples, together with "constipated" and its Spanish false friend "constipado"—someone who is "constipado" is someone who has a cold. Keeping these differences in mind, you can imagine a lot of funny situations with English-speaking people in Hispanic countries or the other way around, and chances are they’ve already taken place many times!



Funny translation of the week #14

More Spanish language creativity, this time by Skyline College:

Skyline College Spanish page

This time I won't give a back-translation, but will analyze the highlights of this text:

1) In a creativity feat, "available" has been translated in three different ways:
—"Avilable", an innovative adjective which is undoubtedly connected to the Spanish city "Ávila".
—"Aviable", which should refer to a place where an aviator can aviate.
—"Aviliable", which obviously comes from the root "bile" but has been misspelled. I just finished my lunch, so I will refrain from interpreting this term in depth.

Of course, the correct Spanish translation "disponible", which is available in any basic English-Spanish dictionary, was too straightforward and boring...

2) Other interesting new concepts:
—Catagolos (second paragraph, last sentence): Goal-o tasters, as translated from "catalogs"
—Requisto: Recyst-o, as translated from "requirement"
—Academicos relaccionados facilitaciones: Relacted académics-facilitations. No idea what this could mean, it is probably too advanced and scholarly for me...
—Información compresivo: Compressive information, which apparently compresses the person learning it. With this exciting new concept, nobody will ever need comprehensive information anymore!



Funny translation of the week #13

Cooley Dickinson Hospital's CEPA program for Hispanics is a real source of creativity for the Spanish language. So much so that a thorough grammatical and etymological research was needed in order to translate the innovative coined Spanish terms on these couple of sentences, and a small glossary was created:

CEPA program

The back-translation follows:

CEPA's goal is connecting Latinos with the services they neeth to suckeep good health.

Since 1993, CEPA members have been working with the comunity provilling informatión with educational activities and meetings, VIH/AIDS infection, and other sexual diseases of transmissión.

And the promised glossary for key terms, in approximate order of appearance:

Nesesitan—They neeth
Mamener—To suckeep
Enfermedades de transmisión sexuales—Sexual diseases of transmission
Provellendo... infección de VIH/SIDA—Provilling VIH/AIDS infection

Providing VIH/AIDS infection? Oooops! I suddenly remembered that I am expected somewhere far away right now!


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