On translating series of novels

I think that it is always better to watch a movie in the original version -with subtitles if needed. But when it comes to literature this is not always true. In a movie it is important to listen to the accent of the characters, you are seeing their mouths pronouncing certain words and sometimes it seems weird to listen to the dubbed text while seeing their mouths uttering different words. But when it comes to literature we can find very good translations thanks to the great professionals that translate books. I have read many translated novels in Spanish which were originally written in English where the translator adapted the language perfectly and you couldn’t find anything that showed that the text was not the original. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I have also found mistakes or idioms translated literally which made no sense at all and made me think “I’m sure that in the original it was written _______ and a good translation would have been _______, but not this!”. Some things get inevitably lost in translation.

 The point of this entry is to comment on something I found some weeks ago reading a translated novel that belongs to a long series. When I read a translated novel I always tend to check who was the translator -call it an odd habit- and I noticed that in this particular series the translators have been changing, different books had different translators. When reading the novels I didn’t find many differences in the language used, so it wasn’t very obvious that the translators had been changing until I got to the fifth novel. In some of the previous novels of the series there was a character called Iseult in the original English version who kept her name in the Spanish translated novels. In two or three books she was called Iseult in the Spanish version. But when I was reading the fifth book I came across the name Isolda -which is a translation of “Iseult”. Since I had not seen that name in the previous books I was a bit confused and wasn’t sure about whether Isolda was a new character of if she was the Iseult I used to read about, until I realized that the translator of this book had translated her name, and thus changed the way previous translators had been calling this character. It’s true that “Iseult” is usually translated as “Isolda” in the legend of Tristan and Iseult -known as “Tristan e Isolda” in Spanish- but in my opinion if you are translating a book that belongs to a series you can’t just translate the names of places or characters without checking first how did the translators of the previous novels translate them, or if they translated them at all! If in the first book the characters were named in a particular way they should keep the same names in the next novels because they are all part of a whole.

Tristan and Iseult (or Isolde) as A. Spiess imagined them.

Tristan and Iseult as A. Spiess imagined them.

Publishers should also bear this in mind, if they hire different translators to translate book of a series they should give them a list of the names used in the previous novels in order to make sure they won’t change the names. If the publisher does not take care of this, the translator should at least check the previous books to see whether the previous translators changed the names of characters or not. When the reader finds a different name for the same character in the same series, someone has made a mistake and we should try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


Recommendation: Lang-8

Today I’m going to talk about a website that I find very useful, and maybe some of you will also like. It’s called Lang-8, and it’s a good resource for foreign language learners, specially for the self-taught. I have talked about this site with some friends, and I recommended it to my students, and none of them knew about it, so I want to spread the word in case this can be helpful for more people.

The basic principle of Lang-8 is that when you create your profile you select your mother tongue and the foreign language that you are studying -you can select up to 2 foreign languages if you are a free user, unlimited languages if you are a Premium user- and right after creating your profile you can start writing! You can write texts in the language you are learning and native speakers will correct them, so you can see the mistakes you made and, if you are lucky, the person who corrects your text may also take the time to explain why what you wrote was wrong. You can also correct texts that people who study your mother tongue have written. Since there are many users in Lang-8, usually someone will correct your text -called journal in this site- in a matter of minutes or hours. This depends, of course, on which language you are learning. If you are learning English, or Spanish or another popular language, your texts will be corrected faster than if you study a more exotic language such as Georgian, because there are more users whose mother tongue is English than Georgian. But still, your texts will be corrected as long as there are users who speak that language as their mother tongue. If you study a very exotic language you can check whether there are any native speakers in the site, just in case. To follow with the example of Georgian: As I write this there are 112 native speakers of Georgian registered in Lang-8, so no worries : )

Lang-8 is a free service, but they offer the possibility of becoming a premium user paying $63 per year. Premium users have some advantages, but you can make the most out of the website for free. You can see the advantages of a Premium account here (click to enlarge):

Premium features

I have been using Lang-8 since September 2012 to practise my Finnish and I’m very happy with this site. You can write texts about whatever you want, short texts or long texts, isolated sentences or a long essay about any topic you want. I think that this is very useful to improve your language skills, because when you sit down and decide to write a text about what you did yesterday you also have to look up some words in a dictionary, check some grammar books if you are not sure about how to say something, etc, and this is really useful to learn. Then, once someone has corrected your text you can go through the corrections carefully to make sure you learn from your mistakes.

If you also take some time to correct texts written in your mother tongue you will be helping other people as well, and it doesn’t really take a lot of time. Some weeks ago the website introduced a system of points, called L-points, to encourage people to correct texts instead of only writing them. Every time you correct a text you earn some points, and the more points you have, the upper your texts will be in the “To-be-corrected” list.

Anybody who wants to learn a foreign language and has a basic or intermediate level will find this site useful. Learners of an advanced level can also find Lang-8 useful, but if they don’t usually make mistakes when writing in their language of study, they will not make the most out of the possibilities it offers. Something that you need when using Lang-8 is determination, because no one is going to ask you to write texts and practise your skills, you just have to take the time to write about something and check the dictionary as many times as you need to. But once someone corrects your text and you can see how well you did, you will be rewarded with the feeling of having learnt something.

If you follow my recommendation and decide to give Lang-8 a try, let me know what you think about it!

Happy language studies!

Multilingual thinking

When someone speaks fluently more than one language, or even when you spend a lot of time studying a foreign language, sometimes our brains mix these languages and we end up saying words that don’t exist or using a strange grammar. This happens because we are thinking in more than one language and, sometimes, we try to think the same in several languages at once, even unconsciously.

Personally, I experience this very often. Sometimes when I’m speaking Spanish some weird word slips out and people give me the “what did you just say?” look. A few days ago I told a friend “Espero cumplir con las expectaciones!” and she corrected me: “expectativas”… I had mixed the English “expectations” with the Spanish “expectativas”. But this doesn’t happen only when I mix English and Spanish. One day, after spending some hours studying Finnish I was speaking in English and wanted to say that something was in the fridge, but instead I said: “It’s in the cup”. I immidiately realized that it was a mistake influenced by the Finnish word for “fridge”: “jääkaappi”.

Another phenomenon of this kind is the spontaneous mixing of more than one language in the same sentence. When I speak in Spanish with some friends who also speak English regularly, sometimes we naturally slip some words or expressions in English because the English word comes to us before the Spanish version, or because we are more used to saying certain things in English than in Spanish… An example could be: “Don’t worry, no voy a ir”. [Don’t worry, I’m not going there].

 I don’t think that these mistakes are a problem, nor that they suppose a bad command of any of the languages involved. In an informal conversation these slips of the tongue only cause a funny moment and some laughs between friends. Actually, the fact of being thinking in more than one language only implies that we do have a good command of those languages. So… all in a day’s work !

 Have you ever experienced this mixing of languages? Feel free to share with us your multilingual experiences!

Awful translations or just automatic translations?

Something that was created to help people and make our life easier has become the opposite: a tool that brings more problems than solutions when people trust it too much. I’m talking about the automatic translation tools. When we are working in a translation we have to take care of many aspects such as the context, the style, the message we want to transmit… But obviously, the automatic translators don’t do this. This may sound very obvious, but apparently many people don’t realize this. The proof is that every now and then we come across awful translations which clearly were made with an automatic translation tool and were not even checked by someone who at least speaks the target language.

I think that automatic translation tools are useful for checking some little doubts, but we have to take into account that they are machines and that we have to go through their results carefully. People should never use automatic translators -without checking it afterwards- for important things that other people are going to read. As an example of terrible translations that were not checked at all before being published, you can see this link… Hopefully you will laugh a bit as well : )

This is another example I found in the handbook of an electronic device that I bought. Sorry for the bad quality of the picture! “Fabricado en Porcelana” as the translation of “Made in China”. “Porcelana” is “china” in Spanish, but as we all know, “china” is not the same as “China”.


And then we ask ourselves why are there so many translators unemployed!

Let’s get started!

Welcome to Grammaticalicious!

As you can guess from the name, this blog will be about “grammatical issues” and about every aspect related to languages and their teaching-learning process. There will be entries written in English, others in Spanish, and maybe some other surprise as well, but English will be the main language. The author is a language teacher and translator from Spain who loves languages and analyzing everything that they can offer us. You can read more about me here. In this blog you will find etymology, grammar, posts about translation and language teaching, and more!

I hope you enjoy your visit here, and remember: Grammar is delicious!!