Terrible translations

When speaking, it’s best not to translate because it slows us down and can cause “blocks”.  Let’s consider a written text or when you want to prepare (in advance) what you’re going to say – perhaps something important.  You might find yourself trying to build a sentence and asking “¿Cómo se dice [palabra en cuestión] en inglés?”.

Remember: it’s very important to consider the complete sentence and context – from beginning to end. Don’t just consider one (or two) words in isolation!

In other words, if we want to convey the meaning well, or express ourselves properly, we accept that often we don’t translate literally – but figuratively.

Sometimes, students  learning English decide to translate literally – word for word.  This is quite common in students who are progressing towards intermediate level.  Although this occasionally works OK, it can often produce results which are confusing, humorous, or even ridiculous.

If you translate everything literally,  clearly it won’t help youAutomatic translators sometimes produce similar poor results. Use them with care – and always check! With important documents such as your C.V. (curriculum vitae) or a job application, you need good results.

So to our first picture, which shows the sign in context.  I hope this helps anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish to work out everything the sign says and what the writer really meant:

Traduccion horrorosa del español al inglés

Terrible translation from Spanish to English

Unfortunately, the photo is a little blurred. I took it quite quickly with a mobile phone.  There’s a second photograph below of the sign, enlarged and with the text repeated – so it should be easier to read!

Please excuse the blurring.
PROHIBIDO BAJAR CON NIÑOS EN EL CARRO Y EN EL COCHE ANTES POR FAVOR AVISAR AL PERSONAL DE LA TIENDA
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO GO DOWN WITH CHILDREN’S [sic] IN STROLLERS AND IN THE SHOPS CAR PLEASE, CONTACT AT THE PERSONAL THE SHOP TO HELP YOU


Not all English speakers would understand the lower text.  They might understand it if they spoke some Spanish.  For example:

  • We don’t usually take cars in shops. 
    Did the writer mean toy/model  cars or something?! 
  • How many shops are we in – one, or many? 
  • Does the sign refer to something which belongs to the children (plural), or is it an incorrect plural?  (A child, two children etc.) 
  • The verb ‘to contact’ does not need a preposition after it.
  • The word ‘personal’  in this context is a false friend, the writer meant “personnel”. However, this would have been better written as “Please contact a member of staff” (note: without the comma after the word ‘Please’).
  • Punctuation could be improved … we could go on…

EXERCISE: contact me with what you think the sign should say, to accurately reflect the Spanish.  It’s good practice!

un coche

A car

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