With hosts of bilingual Spanish to English translators marketing themselves online these days, how can a prospective employer who may not have in mate knowledge of the

 technical aspects of professional translation, and who may not be fluent in both of the languages involved in their projects, confidently distinguish a skilled and qualified translator from a possibly under-qualified, (all be it well-intentioned) self-appointed pro-amateur?

Here are a couple points of advice I would like to offer to employers from my experience which might be helpful when interviewing candidates and assessing the quality of completed translation projects.

  • First, it is imperative to know a sometimes elusive fact regarding good translators: being bilingual – either native to both languages, or well learned and experienced in the second – does not automatically make someone a good translator.

It is easy to assume that if you know how to speak a language well, it must be relatively easy to go ahead and translate into and out of it.

The reality is, however, that languages are very abstract and subjective ways of expressing ourselves.  Each one, particularly those of different cultural systems (such as Spanish and English) works in a very different way from the other on many different levels, such as vocabulary, grammar, and cultural differences, only to list a few.

Learning how to translate between two languages requires learning how to map, or bridge, the vastly different forms of thinking and expression, and it is pretty much like learning to speak a brand new, third language altogether.  It almost always requires a good amount of formal training and experience.

  • Second, prospective employers can easily familiarize themselves with the following basic translation techniques (with examples in Spanish and English), and remember them when interviewing potential candidates, who should be well acquainted with these methods:  (Excellent and more in-depth summaries of these methods can be found here or here.)

Direct Translation Techniques

  1. Borrowed Words (or loanwords) – Words adopted directly into a language.
  • Examples from Spanish to English include ‘mosquito’, and ‘taco’.
  1. Calque – Directly translated phrases, often used for industry-specific purposes.
  • Such as “Aseguramiento de Calidad” for “Quality Assurance”.
  1. Literal Translation – Direct word-for-word translations, usually producing incorrect results.
  • “Los contratistas están terminando la traducción” literally is “The contractors are terminating the translation” – terminating in Spanish conveys finishing, while in English it means canceling.

Oblique [Indirect] Translation Techniques

  1. Transposition – Words or elements of speech that change order.
  • “El carro rojo” literally is “the car red” as opposed to the correct translation “the red car”.
  1. Modulation – Completely different phrases needed to achieve the same idea.
  • “Te lo dejo” is literally “To you it I leave”, and would correctly be translated as “Here you go” or “You can have it.”
  1. Reformulation or Equivalence – Expressing the same idea in a completely different way, commonly applied in marketing and media.
  • “The Sound of Music” is accurately reformulated to “Sonrisas y Lágrimas”, which literally means “Smiles and Tears” in Spanish, which is an elegant title in that language; to say “El Sonido de la Música” in Spanish conveys “Hearing noise” or “Listening to Sound”.
  1. Adaptation – Culture-specific references that need to be adapted into a familiar reference in the target translation language.
  •  For example, a skewer in a Spanish restaurant is referred to as a “Pincho”, but in English, we would use “Kebab”.
  1. Compensation – Elements that simply cannot be translated but can be “made up for” in some another way.
  • “Eh, jefe, has llegado tarde” is an employee telling his boss that the boss was late to work, and in an overly-familiar manner.  The familiarity is expressed by a distinct verb tense, and English has no such tense.  So, an accurate translation might be something like this: “’Hey boss, you’re late,’ said the employee, in a deliberately over-familiar way.”

I hope these points might help shed some light on how quality Spanish-to-English translation is attained, and assist in sizing up potential candidates for translation projects.  If you are in need of Spanish-to-English or English-to-Spanish translators, please feel free to contact us.

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