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