Attempting to translate into another target language

Because I have quite a bit of down time this long weekend, I decided to do something I thought I would never do: attempt to translate into a language that is not my mother tongue. At first I assumed the experiment would be a total disaster. In the end, I was rather surprised with the result.

For this activity, I decided to read a Spanish text and translate it into French. Last week, I made a trip to an east-end shopping centre to browse around. While I was at it, I walked in to an international newspaper chain to see if any Spanish-language material was available. Sure enough, the store had one copy of Geo (the Spanish edition comes from Spain). Since the majority of articles are ridiculously long, I chose to look for a short column. I found one in a larger text related to counterfeit medicine.

To find out how this experiment turned out, you may consult the file by clicking on the following link: El precio de la globalización – Le prix de la mondialisation.

Aside from a few minor interpretation and syntax errors, the overall translation was very good. Like a majority of source texts, my reviser noticed a number of errors in Spanish. As translators, we try not to notice these things, but we sometimes can’t help ourselves.

What did I take from this experience? First, I discovered that it is generally easier to translate between or among languages of the same family than to translate into a language that does not have the same roots. Because Spanish and French are Latin languages, it is not uncommon to notice a large quantity of cognates — words in one language that are identical to words in another. Similarities may be found in a grammatical, orthographic, or syntactical context. As mentioned in a previous post, Spanish and French are languages of subordination. This explains why texts are generally longer than, say, English texts. On a related note, texts written in the same language family normally have the same length. For instance, the original Spanish text I worked with has 461 words; on the other hand, my proposed translation has 473 words — a difference of only 12 words. Third, related languages are usually flexible in word order and sentence structure, and in so doing, they tend to stray from the subject + verb + object structure. Lastly, while the passive voice may be used in translation (remember this?), it may make sentence structure heavy. When this happens, it is best to recast sentences in the active voice or in another light altogether (e.g. using other verb tenses, adjectives, adverbs).

Given my successful experiment, I might decide to translate texts from Spanish into French upon request.

I feel compelled to turn this entry over to you by asking a few questions.

 Have you tried to translate into a language that is not your mother tongue? Do you work with languages within the same family (e.g. Slavic, Indo-European, Scandinavian, Germanic…)? What are the main grammatical, orthographic, or syntactical similarities between or among these languages? What are the main differences? Do the target language texts often have the same length as those of the source languages, or are some texts shorter or longer?


Tomorrow, I and other Canadian colleagues will have the privilege and joy to celebrate our country’s 146th birthday. Whether you live in Whitehorse, Yukon; Vancouver, British Columbia; Yorkton, Saskatchewan; Sudbury, Ontario; Jonquière, Quebec; or St. John’s, Newfoundland, I wish you, your family, friends, and colleagues a Happy Canada Day! Bonne fête, Canada!


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