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„Der Paul war der Dolmetscher bei einem Choraustaustasch zwischen den St. Nicholas Singers aus Northwich, UK und unserem Kinderchor, den „Kolibris“, hier in Koblenz, Deutschland. Ohne ihn hätten wir es nicht geschafft! Er war fleiβig, sympathisch und sehr effektiv.“
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F**cked translations make Spain a laughing stock! PDF

By Paul Whitelock   Thursday 13 May 2010

Tessa Norman’s article about “F**ked translations” (Olive Press, Issue 81) neatly sums up what I have been tittering over and battling against for the last 40 years, ever since I first spotted “Fried Brian” on a menu in San Sebastián and an expensive neon sign advertising a “Nihgt Club” on the Costa Brava! 

The standard of translation of menus, leaflets, websites, legal documents, official notices and, yes, neon signs, is largely farcical.  And it’s not just English that is badly translated; the same often applies to French and German, the next two most frequently used languages in Spain.
Whilst amusing to some, it’s not really acceptable what is put before us here.  When we are talking about town councils, government departments, banks, official websites, legal practices and top quality hotels, what foreigners have to accept is unbelievable.  It’s so unprofessional.
I have a dual language Spanish Will prepared by a local lawyer.  It’s a good job it’s in Spanish, because the English version is incomprehensible!  And the English cost me extra!
My Spanish bank, Unicaja, offers its website and postal communications in three languages other than Spanish.  I can’t comment on the Catalán, but the English and German versions are poor in the extreme.  They’ve certainly not been translated by native speakers.
The exclusive Parador hotel chain produces a multitude of literature in other languages, predominantly  English.  It’s riddled with mistakes and strange turns of phrase.  Take a look at their website or one of their quarterly magazines – it’s not good!
One of the museums in Ronda produces leaflets in several languages – they’re gibberish.  Clearly products of the Google Translation Agency.
As Tessa Norman writes, “... if Spanish companies want to be taken seriously, they must be prepared to invest in professional and accurate translators.”  I would add that they must also definitely be native speakers.
Whilst using a friend or relative, for example a languages teacher or a languages student may appear attractive and less expensive, you are unlikely to get what you want.  Their skills are rarely the same as those needed to produce a smooth, stylish translation.  Companies invest huge sums of money in other aspects of their business, why are they reluctant to pay for accurate and professional translations
What about translation software?  Don’t even be tempted.  There is no substitute for a human being.  A machine, such as a computer, cannot possibly hope to understand the nuance or tone of a text, or take into account the style or grammar of the original.  It may not even select the correct word or phrase.
There is another important issue, however.  Often the problems occur at the designers or printers.  I experienced this first hand last year, when, having translated the menu of a prestigious local restaurant, had it checked for accuracy and proof read before delivery, the menus were printed with 72 errors!  It transpired that the printing company had had my original and accurate electronic document re-typed by a non-English speaker and she had introduced the errors!
So, the next time you see “Fried Brian” on a menu or “Nihgt Club” on an expensive sign, don’t automatically blame the translator.
Any organisation or business that uses a professional translator will have the edge over its competitors.  Diners won’t continue to tolerate menus that offer incomprehensible dishes, such as Tessa illustrates; foreign property purchasers won’t put up with dodgy documents; and website surfers, who have to read Google-translated nonsense, will surf elsewhere!

© Paul Whitelock