Translation from Spanish: Experiences

For the second time in over a year, I received a Spanish>English project from a Sherbrooke-based client this week. Though I clearly mention in my professional title that I am a Spanish>English freelance translator, the truth is that I rarely receive work in this language combination. At any rate, the Spanish translation experience was just as rewarding as the editing/bilingual copy edit stage.

Considering that my volume of work in this pair is significantly less than work from French into English, I must admit translation from Spanish needs work. How much work? I’m not sure. What is certain, however, is that I will need to seek (volunteer) experiences to get a better grasp of handling Spanish source text.

Below are some of the many challenges I face with Spanish texts.

First on my list: reading long, complex, subordinate sentences with (sometimes) complicated syntax. I often find myself having to read—and then reread, reread, reread—one sentence or a slew of several ideas to make sure I have fully understood what the author or client intended to say. The lack of punctuation also makes ideas difficult to understand.

Here’s an example of a sentence taken from an insurance contract:

Al momento de que el asegurado realice una reclamación y su documentación se encuentre completa y correcta (la definirá “LA ASEGURADORA” considerando las condiciones de cada país) deberá ser dictaminada en un plazo no mayor a 5 (cinco) días hábiles y una vez que se determine procedente por parte de “LA ASEGURADORA”, ésta deberá cubrir la indemnización en un plazo no mayor de 10 (diez) días hábiles en el lugar que designe el afectado y en la moneda en que se efectuaron los gastos al tipo de cambio venta vigente al momento de efectuar el reembolso del pago.

Because no comma follows país (country) and the closing parenthesis, and does not precede deberá (must), it’s hard for me to tell if what follows refers to the subject, the insured (asegurado), or something else. Frequent usage of the conjunction y (and) also makes comprehension difficult to follow from beginning to end, since y links multiple ideas in one long sentence.

Second on my list: filler words and connectors. Spanish has many of them, including independientes, igual, incluso, mediante (+ el/la cual//los (las) cuales), and much more. The question I have to ask is whether or not I should translate these connectors into English, or if they will simply detract from what may precede or follow in translation.

Here are some excerpts from a magazine article in Geo‘s Spanish edition last October. (Some context: the text, written by Johannes Schneider, talks about hydraulic engineering and its importance in founding Classical urban centres. Because of this type of engineering, and most importantly, the advent of aqueducts, it is now possible for Roman populations to gain access to water.)

[Caption following the title] “La ingeniería hidráulica fue decisiva en el crecimiento de la mayor ciudad del mundo clásico. Mediante asombrosos acueductos, que salavaban valles y montañas y atravesaban bosques y llanuras, el suministro de agua llegó también a muchas provincias conquistadas. Aquellos logros de la Antigüedad continúan causándonos una profunda admiración”.


“A partir de una altura determinada, los sillares se alzan con grúas cuyas cuerdas están comunicadas con una gran rueda de madera en cuyo interior caminan varios esclavos para darle fuerza suficiente al aparejo de la grúa” (…) “Así ahorran muchas toneladas de material, lo que les permite levantar puentes muy largos. A veces incluso erigen varias filas superpuestas de arcos, creando construcciones de casi 50 metros de altura”. (My bold prints.)

If you were in my shoes, how would you translate or adapt the above magazine excerpts? Would you translate the connectors/filler words in boldprint, or would you leave them out?

I’ll conclude with one other problem: the use of se. Used in a reflexive context, se is not hard to render in English (e.g. afeitarse = to shave oneself). But how do you deal with se when used in passive constructions, in impersonal structures, with transitive or intransitive verbs, or with direct or indirect objects followed by verbs?

How would you effectively convey the following sentences and paragraph?

La chica se nos emborrachó.

El autor se plantea unos problemas.

—Excerpts: Brian Steel, Translation from Spanish: An Introductory Course, Sociedad General Española de Librería, S.A., Madrid, pp. 135, 141, 1979.

“Si a esos problemas raciales se agregan los fuertes desequilibrios personales y regionales de renta, podemos explicarnos porqué en EE.UU. se ha desencadenado en nuestro tiempo una crisis de confianza frente a la exaltación tradicional de la democracia y las libertades personales”.

—Excerpt: Allison Beeby Lonsdale, Teaching Translation from Spanish to English: Worlds beyond Words, University of Ottawa Press, p. 64, 1996. (“Estados Unidos de América” from Ramón Tamames’ Estructura económica internacional, Alianza, Madrid. Context: In the first part of Tamames’ essay, we read statistics pertaining to the United States’ demographics and statistics. Tamames goes on to talk about problems related to racial and cultural segregation, and integration. To solve these problems, minority groups—African Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Natives, and so on—take radical moves to defend their respective identities against the supposed majority elite, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, otherwise known as the WASPS.)

Leave me a reply with some of your translation solutions. It always helps if you can explain why you translated the excerpts a certain way.

Of course, as I translate more and more from Spanish, I’m bound to come up with more challenges!


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