As English speakers, I often feel we have an unfair advantage over our hispanophone friends and neighbours here in Spain. They speak the language of their birth, which does them well at home, and all over Central and South America. But for us, our idiom is the one most widely spoken around the world. Just being born an anglophone guarantees us the potential to learn a living almost anywhere as a teacher, translator or interpreter.
In an ideal world, all English text used in Andalucia, a region which depends heavily on foreign tourism (numbers were up over 7% in the first six months of 2015, with more than five million in total), would be translated, or at least seen, by a native speaker – those magic words which are the key to good, natural, idiomatic English. And in the past few years, to be fair, the standard has risen noticeably in general terms.
However what is still too often preferred, due to time and budgetary constraints, is Google Translate. And what does that spell? Potential disaster – egg-on-face, laughing-stock, SM-viral calamity.
Now I can see the clear advantages of speaking Spanish words into your phone, and have the Google Translate app transform them magically into English for you. Very handy for visitors who don’t have a grasp of the language. But if you are a business, for whom the English-speaking market is important – Brits, Yanks, Canadians, Aussies, northern Europeans – then why, oh why, don’t you invest a not-huge sum into a solid, reliable translation which will not cast a shadow over your product or service?
Another bugbear is half-hearted semi-translation of a website. You see the flag, top right-hand corner, to indicate you can click choose your language. The first page, or sometimes even the first paragraph is in English, of varying quality, but then it reverts to Spanish. Oh, the sense of disappointment – your hopes are dashed. Why couldn’t they carry they carry it through and finish the damn job?
Who hasn’t seen an appalling mistranslation on a menu, hotel leaflet or website? Often they’re hilariously funny, sometimes they’re cringingly embarrassing. Recently, Sur in English, the Malaga newspaper, spotted some corkers on the Cervantes Theatre website. This august institution displayed the prices of “fertilizer” and “manure” for Philharmonic Orchestra tickets. In a Jeopardy-like game, Spanish speakers will realise that abono=season ticket has been confused with abono=compost. Oops. Manure over 65, anyone? Mature manure. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Additionally, and probably my personal favourite, a flamenco performer who goes by the name of El Carpeta, became “the folder”. How is a computer expected to tell the difference?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gnashed my teeth with English-speaking friends over coffee, as we bemoan the inability, or unwillingness, on the part of Spanish companies to understand the necessity of having a decent level of English on their promotional literature, both print and digital. Hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, theatres, tour companies. I have offered my services from everyone to the Seville Town Hall to small but successful restaurants. I have offered corrections out of the goodness of my heart – seeing poor English is the equivalent of nails scraped along a blackboard. STOP! MAKE IT STOP! NOW! I’LL DO ANYTHING!
Here’s one good example, from a major city’s tourism department. Their main slogan is:
Welcome to a city full of persons who are willing to receive you. We love people!
Would that attract you to visit? Doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue; not very natural-sounding. If you’re aiming at an English-speaking audience, here’s a left-field idea. Why not ask an English-speaker what they think of it? Canvas a few opinions? Or, even better, ask an English-speaker to come up with it in the first place. Or someone who is genuinely bilingual. They’re a rarity, at least away from the coast, but they do exist.
What mistranslation horrors have you seen on menus, signs, websites and other texts?