Wednesday, 18 November 2009

In other words

There are three types of foreigner in Spain: those who have lived here a few years and speak less than 10 words of Spanish (it must be true; I read it in a Giles Tremlett book); those who have lived here a few years, speak very good Spanish yet still assume they sound terrible; and those who have lived here a few years and think their spoken Spanish is pretty good when it's actually bloody awful. I fall into the third category. Locksmiths, receptionists and the old lady next door will testify to this. And though it has improved steadily since I arrived (positively skyrocketing once I realised fluency wouldn't come by watching gameshows or eavesdropping in bars, but by study) I still find it incredibly frustrating that I can't be as articulate in Spanish as I can, on a good day, in English. What I can do very well, however, is understand the written word. So when my girlfriend, a qualified translator, asked me to do the donkey work on a 28,000-word translation last week, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to repay a small chunk of the linguistic debt to her I incurred when we arrived. Picture the scene two years ago: Her: "Babe, can you get the door phone while I'm putting on my make-up?" Me: "No, I'm scared." I wasn't easy to live with. Anyway, back to the translation: it was vast. But we persevered and completed it on deadline (within five days!). And apart from a liiiiittle bit of stress, I found the whole experience very gratifying. As well as the obvious act of translating one language into another, the whole process involved a hefty amount of editing, sub editing, proofreading and hundreds of "how would we say that in English?" questions. Basically, a few things I have a geekish fascination with already. Woe betide anyone who thinks translation is just replacing words with equivalent words; you've got to find the cultural and linguistic equivalence! We did. And I helped. Only 95% of the debt left to pay then...

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