We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: translating is risky business. Translation has a number of challenges, and these become all the more acute when it comes down to translating informal language. Slang, idioms and colloquialisms are very challenging indeed. We’ll explore these challenges, in Spanish and English. We’ll try to examine the issue of such a Spanish English dictionary of slang translation, and what this means for language professionals.

Spanish English Dictionary Basics

Before we wonder about a Spanish English dictionary for movie slang, we need to go back to basics.

Translation: What is it?

Translation is the transformation of text from one language into another. In the case of a Spanish-English translation we could be taking a text from Spanish into English or vice versa. Now then this sounds fairly simple, but is it?

We’ve pointed out in this blog that the basic challenge of translation is the dualism between precision and aesthetics. We must really understand this point. Consider the following passages from the Mexican movie ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ and try to see this issue.

Total Precision

The first situation we may encounter is the possibility for total literal precision. In this moment of the movie, the main characters have reached a beach and are getting to know the surrounding areas:

Chuy se ofreció a llevarlos a conocer las playas de alrededor al día siguiente.

This phrase is quite simple. We can easily translate it literally, as something like: “Chuy offered to take them to see the surrounding beaches the next day.” This is a straightforward phrase.

spanish english dictionary

Aesthetics and Naturalness

Now then, things aren’t usually as simple as in the previous example. At this point in the movie, the two main characters are about to fight. As one of them spits on the car door window, the other says:

Clásico, a huevo te tenía que salir lo pinche nacote, güey.

Can we attempt a literal translation? Unlikely. The phrase is so steeped in slang that we would end up with something quite incomprehensible. The strategy here is to try to figure out the meaning and then stray from literal precision into aesthetic truth. Let’s try to figure this out, step by step.

First of all, what does the phrase even mean? In essence, the phrase is saying something like “Classic, you had to show your true colors” or, more accurately, it means “Classic, you had to show how much of a jerk you are.” This is only an approximation though. We can look deeper.

The phrase in the movie is constructed in a rather unusual manner. If we want to more accurately translate it, we’d have to follow such a structure and end up with something like: “Classic, the jerk inside you had to come out, man.” Is this translation enough? It’s not bad, but perhaps not great either.

The main problem with the phrase is centered around the slang used. Translating “pinche nacote” as “jerk” doesn’t really begin to explain this slang, though it may be acceptable (perhaps only barely).

Spanish English Dictionary Problems

As we’ve been able to see, the biggest challenge is deciding precision and naturalness. There are times when translation surpasses these problems and enters into a level of greater difficulty. Occasionally, this means that some phrases will be impossible to translate. Such situations can happen from Spanish into English or from English into Spanish.

Consider this phrase by Ralph Wiggum in The Simpsons (Season 6, Episode 8):

Me fail English? That’s unpossible.

This phrase is obviously very funny in English. When it comes time to attempt a Spanish English dictionary translation, we bump into trouble. How can we begin to translate it? Let’s try to replicate the template we’ve been creating; we’ll begin by doing a literally precise translation:

¿Yo reprobar inglés?

We seem to only be able to create a translation of the first part of the phrase: Me fail English? The funny tag of the phrase seems to elude any possibility of translation: That’s unpossible.

What if we attempt to translate aiming for naturalness and aesthetics? Can we leave literal precision behind and create a new translation? Let’s see:

¿Yo reprobar inglés? Es no-posible.

Here we’re attempting to stray from literal precision and creating a translation which reads as Me fail English? That’s non-possible. Much of the comedy is lost though. Perhaps in this case we’re confronting a phrase which can’t be translated at all. We probably have to invent something different, whilst maintaining the intent of the phrase:

¿Yo reprobar inglés? Es imposibilidad.

This means something like: Me fail English? It’s impossibility. Does it work? Hardly, but maybe it’s the best we can do. Note that since that Spanish translation would be used for Spanish audiences we’d have to tinker with the phrase a bit more and remove Me fail English? with Me fail Spanish? or with Me fail language? We’d have to use something like: ¿Yo reprobar español? or ¿Yo reprobar castellano? or ¿Yo reprobar lenguaje?

Other Considerations: Polishing and Localization

There are other considerations in translation in general and Spanish English dictionary of slang translations.

To Polish or Not to Polish

Translating movie scripts is certainly tricky, as we’ve seen in the examples above. They do have an advantage though. When translators receive a movie script, they know that this text is final and that they don’t have to edit or polish the original. The script must be respected and translated as is, without changes. All they have to do now is translate.

There are more complex situations in other forms of writing. Imagine that a translator receives a dissertation is Spanish to be translated into English. When the translator gets down to work he discovers that the text is riddled with grammatical issues. Not only that, but it’s also wordy, with long sentences which go nowhere and are hard to follow. Translating such a text will create a subpar translation, simply because the original is not well written. What should the translator do?

Two Possibilities

There are two possibilities. The first one is attempting to polish/edit the text before translating. Naturally, this would mean charging the client for editing, which may or may not be a possibility. More importantly, though, editing a text and changing it may produce a text and then a translation which the client doesn’t recognize as theirs. Although the text is better, this may even offend a client. The other possibility is not to do anything to the original text and deliver a translation which carries over the problems of the original.

Usually, the best alternative here is to talk to the client. The translator should explain that editing is a good idea. If the client accepts and pays extra, then great. If he doesn’t, then at least the translator tried and the unpolished translation will not trouble him.

spanish english dictionary

To Localize or not to Localize

The other big consideration when attempting a Spanish English dictionary translation is localization. This is certainly a worthy issue when attempting translations of movies and television content. Imagine that we’re translating an advertising campaign from English into Spanish. The question here is should we localize? Let’s try to understand this issue.

There are many Spanish-speaking countries and each one has a Spanish language with particular characteristics. If we want to bring the advertising campaign into Mexico, for example, perhaps we’ll want to translate and localize it into ‘Mexican Spanish’. Likewise, if we want to bring the advertising campaign to Colombia, we may be more successful if we translate and localize into a particular version of ‘Colombian Spanish.’

Sometimes, localization is unnecessary. This usually happens because we’re translating and using a ‘neutral’ form of Spanish, without slang or colloquialisms. Although the existence of a ‘neutral’ Spanish is not without controversy, content translated into a standard form of Colombian or Mexican Spanish is usually considered ‘neutral’, particularly when such translation is used in dubbing.

Spanish English Dictionary Blueprint

Very well, we’ve seen some of the major issues in translation. Can we settle down a basic procedure for a Spanish English translation?

  1. Translate!

Translators are often pressed for time. Either they want to finish fast, or they have a client who needs the work urgently. The problem with such haste is that segments/phrases may get lost if there is too much urgency. A very hasty translator may get a document translated rapidly, only to find that important phrases, perhaps even sections, were not translated at all and were skipped over.

The solution is to be agile but not reckless. Every single phrase/segment must be translated.

  1. Checking

The problem with a process of revision is that a translator can waste too much time doing it. Indeed, a translator may either (i) revise the whole text when it’s completely translated or (ii) check each phrase/segment if they’re using CAT tools or (iii) a combination, where they may check each translated page or paragraph. As can be noted from this, a process of revision is very cumbersome and time-consuming.

The issue with not revising and simply concentrating on translating fast is that there’s a great risk of missing original text.

  1. Final Adjustments

Now that there’s a full translation, it’s important to give the text one final read-through and fix spelling, typos etc. Naturally, again, a translator is confronted with a need to check for typos and the need for celerity in translation. A translator could probably attempt to do a quick revision, aided by a computer spell check.

The Bunny Studio Way

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