It’s Not MY Spanish

Did you know that Spanish is spoken in 32 locations around the globe? One of them is the US.

There was a time when Tembua could guess which version of Spanish to send to which state or city. The immigrant community in Miami came primarily from Cuba (and still does!). When we sent something to New York, we most often localized it for Venezuela or Puerto Rico.

But that is no longer the case. Spanish speakers have moved all over the US, and that poses a challenge for translators. Which Spanish shall we produce?

If it’s for a single-use situation and for a company that has just one location, we ask. But for companies with multiple branches across the country (so, most of our clients), localizing for each location would be cost-prohibitive for the client.

Over the years, Tembua has worked with teams of linguists to produce a neutral Spanish that we use for all US firms. However, Spanish for Spain is produced in Europe specifically for Spaniards.

But this leaves another issue. We don’t know who at the client’s office is going to review our translations. Sometimes it’s someone who grew up speaking Spanish but without the writing classes in spelling and grammar that schools in Spanish-speaking countries provide. (These people can make wonderful interpreters with a bit of training.)

Sometimes the client’s reviewer has had the equivalent of high school Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country—and marks up the whole translation according to the Spanish of her country of origin. (It’s akin to an English-speaking reviewer changing fountain to bubbler and spanner to wrench.)

I have had client reviewers yell at our project managers because of the poor quality of our translation. I always ask that these calls be forwarded to me. I hold a degree in linguistics with post-graduate classes in translation and international credentials in German. I also worked for years as a translator. I am able to explain the distinction between a poor translation and one that uses different vocabulary.

But the coup de grâce is that our linguists are required to respond to each change the client’s reviewer makes. Sometimes they note preferential, which means the reviewer simply likes another word better. Think humorous versus comical. But they are not hesitant to note bad grammar or wrong translation. They back up their comments with excerpts from the Real Academia Española, which oversees the Spanish language all around the world.

Or they explain how Spanish and English terms can be false friends. An example of a false cognate is the English jubilation and the Spanish jubilación. The English word means “happiness,” while the Spanish one means “retirement” or “pension.” This example and other false friends can be found in this fun article.

At Tembua, we add reviewers’ preferences to the translation memories (TMs) we maintain for each client in each language. But we will not add mistakes. When clients won’t budge, we create a separate TM for them—because, after all, the client is always right!

From start to finish, translation is a multifaceted process with many judgment calls to make. That’s why Tembua uses only the most qualified linguists—to produce translations that are the best suited to their original documents, to their target audiences, and to our clients’ needs.

Patricia May


Quality vs. Value

For children’s party favors, I go to the Dollar Store. Why pay good money for something that may—undoubtedly will— only be used for 15 minutes?

For my grandchildren, however, I lovingly sew a snuggly puppy out of washable fake fur, each in a different color.

This is quality versus value, the relationship of the personal value relative to the price point. The quality of a product or service has to meet the client’s expectation at the right price.

The Dollar Store favors? The right quality at the right price.

The snuggly puppies? High quality, and also high value for their recipients (hopefully). defines quality as native excellence or superiority. Value, on the other hand, is defined as relative worth, merit, or importance. The keyword there is relative.

Some people say you get what you pay for. They mean you can’t expect high quality to come cheap. But do we always need high quality? If we can’t afford it, we sometimes have to settle for something of lower quality. And sometimes, as in the case of the party favors, spending the money for high quality would be pointless. So we are left to evaluate our needs and expectations against the price.

This system holds true in our industry. Free is the lowest price there is, and sometimes free online translation is just what you need. A farmer’s market poster? A yard sign for a garage sale? If the text is understandable and the translation is only going to be used for a few days, good enough is good enough.

Someone recently asked me why we charge anything for what we do. I struggled to contain my outrage at the question as I tried to explain translation by an degreed, experienced linguist plus revision by another similarly qualified linguist plus proofreading plus quality control costs. However, he knew what he knew, and I wasn’t going to change his mind. All we do is write or speak properly in another language, after all!

Learning the value of quality translation is a company who came to us after they translated their website into Chinese using a free online tool and then wondered why no Chinese speakers had contacted them. Then a native Chinese speaker told them that the text was gibberish. Tembua fixed the text for them, but we weren’t free.

I recently read an advertisement claiming that a single project manager could handle a million words a day using that company’s software. I was immediately suspicious. When I worked as a translator years ago, a reviser always reviewed my work and improved it. Then the project manager (PM) went through the document carefully to find missing phrases, run-on sentences, MIA punctuation, a list that jumped from 1 to 3 with no 2. As owner of my own agency for 25 years, I know these things can happen—with or without the latest software. Our PMs are required to allow enough time to review the translation.

I find that PM review stage is becoming less and less common in our industry. The fast pace of business today sometimes demands that a translation be ready by the end of the day no matter what. But we always tell our clients if their timeline necessitates skipping steps.

Tembua offers single-pass human translation—where appropriate.

We also offer neural machine translation revised by a human editor—where appropriate.

For our clients in the biomedical or med tech field, we add review by subject matter experts to the team of translation plus reviser plus proofreader. These SMEs aren’t linguists but rather native-speaker, working PhDs and MDs who read the translation for language that is current and local.

Ask us! We’ll help you decide what you need. If it’s a translation for a one-time, low-stakes event, we might even point you at Google Translate!

Patricia May
President and CEO

Our Good Enough World

Years ago, Wired magazine published an article by Robert Capp called “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine.” During the past years, I’ve heard speakers refer to this concept, and I’ve come across a number of concrete examples.

In the translation and localization industry, we’ve come to apply this idea to examples of bad English often seen online and abroad: if the meaning somehow comes through, isn’t the quality of the text sufficient?

Recently, however, someone put an ancillary thought in my head. I was reading Minneapolis Star Tribune archives and encountered columnist Kim Ode talking about the availability of ready-made pie crust. She wondered if mixing and rolling a crust is becoming a lost art. My attention was caught by this sentence: “What do we lose when every destination comes by way of a shortcut?”

I’m just as impatient as the next person. OK, more so. I want my downloads now and demand to know why my overnight shipping came late. Indeed, today’s culture seems to be driven by the need for the immediate. That fuels the economic engine and drives innovation, creating jobs and boosting the GNP. But I wonder—what are we losing?

I remember my father saying that my desk at college was nothing but a piece of cheap pressed wood with a paper-thin veneer. While he sneered, my mother calmly said it was all the college could afford to provide without raising tuition. Besides, it was a desk for a college student, not a CEO. It was good enough.

Flash forward. Today we are accustomed to furniture that may be labeled “all wood” but is actually largely medium-density fiberboard. It’s good enough, and it’s a good idea because its construction consumes fewer trees and results in lighter-weight items. But when I run my hand over my grandparents’ oak claw-foot pedestal table in my dining room, the difference is obvious.

The last time I attended a concert at Symphony Hall, it had been too long since my previous visit, and I took a deep breath at the first orchestral sounds. I had forgotten how amazing live music performed by professional musicians in an acoustically balanced venue can be. The sound astonished me. I love the music I listen to when I run and the tunes in my player while I garden, but I can still hear the difference. And that may be the problem with good enough.

Our definition of value is changing. We are gradually becoming a nation that wants speed over quality work. I recently read that translation project managers should be able to handle a million words a day. Perhaps—if all they’re doing is running the text through the latest machine translation software and sending it right back to the client. And certainly, sometimes that’s appropriate.
When speed takes the place of quality, are we on our way to losing the appreciation of fine craftsmanship as we increase our ability to produce an immediate product? Will we cease to respect the work of the artisan’s hands and find no motivation to strive for quality? If we lose that appreciation, will we then lose the ability to produce those fine pieces of work or even tell the difference? What do you think?

(Coming in two weeks: Quality vs. Value)
Patricia May
President and CEO