Friday, April 11, 2008

Where Spanish is going

It is again wintertime in springtime in Minnesota. Some rain here, some snow there, adding to the dreary prospects of an outdoor activity this weekend. Well, not that I had any plans for the weekend, what with the Tuesday of Impending Doom (that's April 15th for us Americans). Well, I managed to finish my tax preparations yesterday and now, freed, as if were, from this paper yoke (or joke?), I am ready to go on with my life.

But the gremlins that afflict us translators, writers and other wordsmiths woke me up in the wee hours this morning. I started to think about my pending thesis, which revolves around the stylistic changes of Spanish technical handbooks in the last 40 years. That got me pondering about style in a larger sense. You see, when we start studying translation in our traditional universities, we are taught, so properly, from the tradition of language and linguistics, about style, text analysis, grammar, syntax, synonyms, acronyms and other 'yms.' Since most translation programs are born in the heart of language and literature programs, students of translation are led to believe, inadvertently of course, that good writing style is mostly and only found in literary translations.

Because I am, in a way, the product of a translation program created by language teachers at a 500-year old South American university, I used to think that way for a long time...until fate, karma or destiny brought me technical texts to translate. It took me about ten years to perfect my writing style for technical translations in Spanish. And I am still perfecting it.

But enough about the past, what about the future? What is the future of Spanish translations in the market? Yes, there is an overabundance of texts awaiting translation for the Spanish readers, mostly in the United States, and there is a glut of Spanish translators in the market, most of them mediocre ones. Why mediocre? Why do I dare pronounce such harsh judgment on my professional brethren, you'll say? Simply put, it's a matter of style.

Improving your grammar, vocabulary and knowledge of the foreign languages you will be translating from is the easy part. First of all, finding the natural style of your mother tongue, the Spanish you've been speaking since childhood, should be your main goal, and the hardest part will be to find your stylistic voice. To be a true translator is to first admit to yourself that you are a writer. If you want to be a writer that others take seriously, you'll have to find and develop your writing style.

Now, back to calling most Spanish translators in the market mediocre: they are mediocre because they shoehorn their translations into English syntactic structures, ill-fitted to showcase the best of Spanish. There is a need for Spanish authoring across American corporations that goes unrecognized, misdiagnosed and, subsequently, poorly served. I venture to say that part of the future in translation for the Spanish market in America lies with those who venture into authoring text in Spanish, from the ground up. That means, no passage through translation to reach the Hispanic masses, but writing straight in Spanish. Try it. Start now. It'll do your writing a world of good.

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