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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sweets of Canary

Wild Canary? He was probably livid! ImageJuan Emilio

In the Canary Islands there definitely is a policy to give jobs to locals before foreigners. Understandable, you might say. Legally, particularly in the case of fellow EU member citizens, this isn't allowed, but the fact is that as a foreigner, even if you have perfect Spanish and submit a job application to a Canarian owned company, you mostly just get ignored. This avoids companies from making any open admission to their policy, in writing, and thus suffering its legal consequences. But, whilst I am sure there are many people who do not know about this going on, or deny it, otherwise it's an "open secret".

And there is one area where this policy backfires big-style.

That of translating into English.

My Spanish is sometimes better than the locals, but I am not daft enough to write or translate into Spanish, except for my own personal correspondence, because Spanish is not my native tongue and the result will inevitably come out awkward.

(Well, I don't claim my English is perfect either, but that is a whole other story.)

I'm all up for trying to use Spanish on a day-to-day basis, because this is the right thing to do to fit in (in fact, it's all I speak these days and I keep losing English words as a result), but if I ever had to produce something vitally important in writing, in Spanish, I'd have it double-checked by a native Spanish speaker. This seems the logical thing to do.

The official diplomatic and business rule is that one should only translate into one's native tongue. One should speak or write in one's native language, then, if there is going to be any misinterpretation, it can only be at the receiving end.

This doesn't seem to bother the Canarians, as anyone who has ever tried to read the results of many a non-native English speaker's efforts of translating into English will attest.

The example of one Canarian produced English language (using the term very very loosely indeed) newspaper springs to mind. If you understand Spanish and thus the errors that are most commonly made, then you may understand what was trying to be said. Otherwise it's pure entertainment. In that particular case, I just could not help but phone up to offer my services to edit it and, in verbal response, was told very bluntly that they have to employ Canarians for the job. Seems short-sighted, but it's futile to argue with this "wisdom".

Another howler was an advertising billboard on the side of the road that joins the south motorway to the north, which proffered the enticing delicacy, "Sweets of Canary".

My weird imagination wondered if these were little birds on a stick, maybe with a toffee coating, or very very small sweets indeed i.e. sweetbreads from said unfortunate songbird.

Bet that would take his pitch up a couple of octaves! :)

The company in question probably paid pots of money to have that stuck up there in huge letters to advertise, what I presume are their traditional "Canary Islands' Sweets". As advertising goes, I suppose that at least it was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't caused road accidents from laughter.

Menus everywhere contain similar examples of non-edible things to the point that I have given up on trying to translate their English and, the phenomenon is now carried on at many a Canarian website that offers a clumsy English version. It is sort of English, probably automatically and therefore literally translated. You can understand it, but it is long-winded, clumsy and very very dry. We would not write English like that, especially not to SELL the attractions of something. Oh, if only they would ask a native English speaker to check. It's not like there is any shortage of us capable of assisting. Of course, you could say, leave things as they are, or we will lose a valuable source of entertainment.


Tenerife Scribbler said...

Perhaps a list of dodgy translations is in order? I'm sure you've got an enviable clanger collection!

Anonymous said...

Most people here are sure the automatic translation works well (as you saw in the menu on my weblog) and stick with these programs to do important jobs in other languages. Maybe it's only my case but I will give jobs to people from other countries, specially from USA or UK because it's always nice to have at hand a person who is native on english for serious translations and other duties that demands a higher-than-standard use of foreign language. I laught at some resumès I received recently in a selection for a job at my company. A lot of people seems to have a "medium to high" level of english, but when you try get them to speak in that language they can barely build a complete sentence. ( maybe i'm not the reight person to critizise that, because, as you see, my english is less than perfect) ;-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is very true that a lot of British or American people also think that these tools produce a readable translation. I love them for the entertainment value.

Your written English is perfectly fine. Much better than my written Spanish. :)

That is the key, probably. It is only someone like yourself, who does speak good English, but who is nonetheless aware of difference between a translation done by a native and a non-native speaker, who is able to see the benefits of using an expert for the job.

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