“It makes no difference whether it is Brazilian or European Portuguese”

10 05 2013

REALLY? I read this on an e-mail from a prospect client today and literally felt like crying. Basically, the client was saying that there is a difference when translating into these two languages, but not from either of them into a third language. Again, really?

Hence, I have decided to settle the issue once and for all! Brazilian and European Portuguese, or other variants (I have heard African Portuguese) are so-called because they ARE very different. Firstly, let’s put it into perspective. Listen to about 1 minute of each video below to have a feel for the languages:

Brazilian Portuguese

European Portuguese

They sound very different don’t they? In fact, they are more different than different accents in English speaking countries and it can be hard even for native speakers to understand their non-native variant.

Next, there are vocabulary differences, such as:

English Brazilian PT Portugal PT
Can opener abridor tira-cápsulas
Butcher’s açougue talho
Flight attendant (female) aeromoça hospedeira de bordo
Workbook apostila sebenta
Candy bala rebuçado
Bathroom banheiro casa de banho
Box caixa, caixinha boceta (this in PTBR is equivalent to the “C” swear word)
Panties/ knickers calcinha cueca (This in PTBR is the word for men’s underwear)
Identity Card carteira de identidade bilhete de identidade
Driver’s license carteira de motorista carta de condução
Mobile/cell phone celular telemóvel
Convertible conversível descapotável
Pedestrian Crossing faixa de pedestres passadeira
Line/cue fila bicha
Fridge geladeira frigorífico
Stapler grampeador agrafador
Comic história em quadrinhos banda desenhada
Injection injeção pica
Socks meias peúgas
Bus ônibus autocarro
Pedestrian pedestre peão
Bus Stop ponto de ônibus paragem
Private tutor professor particular explicador
Sandwich sanduíche sandes
Ice cream sorvete gelado
Juice suco sumo
Train trem comboio
Shop window vitrine montra
Saucer xícara chávena

Source: SO Portugues

Grammar, orthography and general writing are also different. So different, in fact, that in 1990, Portuguese Speaking countries signed an orthographic agreement in an attempt to align/unify the rules for written Portuguese across Portuguese speaking countries. In addition to unifying language, the aim of the agreement was to improve cultural exchange, reduce the economic cost of book production and translations, and promote bibliographic exchange between these countries. This has been met with such controversy that it was due to become obligatory from 2008 and now, at least in Brazil, its obligatory enforcement has been postponed to 2016 – i.e. both the old and the new grammar and orthography rules are currently acceptable in Brazil. Source: Brasil Escola

The aforementioned differences are naturally significant, but the most significant difference is a lot more subtle – i.e. culture. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Angola, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Equatorial, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe and Macau. All of these countries harbor very different cultures that are reflected in how the language is spoken and, more importantly, how meaning is construed through language. This is particularly true in technical fields, legal and medical terminology is completely different in Brazil and Portugal, because there are different regulations and practices in place.

Most opponents of the orthographic agreement argue that you couldn’t possibly contain all these different manifestations within a single set of rules. One couldn’t possibly contain such a fluid language spoken in such vibrant cultures in a unified grammar book.

Back to the business of translations, it is easier for native Portuguese speakers to learn variants of Portuguese other than their native ones than learning a new language. However, this learning is not automatic and requires cultural awareness. If a translator is not knowledgeable about the culture where the source Portuguese file is from or intended Portuguese translation is targeting, there are bound to be misunderstandings! My advice: always look for an expert on the specific variant of Portuguese being used in your project.


The future of education

5 02 2013

The last month has been uncharacteristically crazy. January isn’t usually a busy month in my translation experience, but this one has been mad. I have actually worked every single day, without a day off until Feb 1, and I am now the blocked up carrier of an annoying cold, but how rewarding is it when you get to work on projects that inspire you?!

Sometimes we are given these projects that actually make us realize the value in what we do; because I am able to put something originally written in a different language into my native language, a lot more people are able to have access to that content and some contents are worth spreading.

One such project was a 60,000-word translation for UNESCO from English to Portuguese about open educational resources  (OER) and open courseware (OCW). I must say I am really excited about the possibilities of these concepts. They refer to resources or entire courses made available openly and freely online for anyone who’s interested in learning or using them for teaching purposes. The power of this is evident in Shimon Schoken’s TED talk about self learning 

I believe this is the future of democracy and inclusion and us translators have a role to play in making content available in as many languages as possible to reach as many people as possible.

Having said that, I thought that if we all could find an open educational resource project or open courseware that we are passionate about and perhaps volunteer or try to work with them in some way, we will be doing a huge service to millions of people who’ll gain access to this wealth of resources becoming available online.

The aforementioned UNESCO project was not a  volunteer one, but I have just volunteered to translate TED talks, which are open educational resources.

Translators everywhere! Let’s join the OER movement!

Translating Poetry

5 11 2012

As an experienced and specialist translator I must say I don’t often get asked to translate challenging topics (deadlines, however, are always challenging). There is little novelty in terms of vocabulary and topics after you’ve been translating medical and business articles for so long.

Anyway, last week I was faced with the unusual challenge of translating poetry. My client is a Portuguese artist who wrote about the issue of alcoholism in Portugal. His book uses images and poems to convey the extent of the problem, the domestic violence that follows and etc.

I had time and decided to take on the challenge of adapting the poems to English. My first approach was to have a 1 hour session on skype with my client to make sure I was understanding what he meant by the artwork and the poems. I must say that I found it very interesting, because discussing poems is not usually a part of my routine.

Following this conversation, I sat down and translated line by line of each poem. I then sent this initial version of the translation along with a few remaining questions to my client, who made comments and helped me with the unclear meanings.

Whilst I was waiting for my client’s feedback, I did a bit of research on English poems to get into the mindset and rhythm of poems in this language.

I then went back to the poems with a different approach, now looking at them as a whole, not isolated verses, to feel whether there was a rhythm to the reading, whether it was understandable in English, etc. I must say I was very please with the result (and so seemed the client!).

It is fantastic as a translator when I have the opportunity to work closely with my clients to convey their message. I am able to connect to the client and the project and this makes the work so much more interesting and personal for me.

One important aspect of ensuring the success of this project was making sure the client understood that I am not a poet, therefore I could translate what he meant and make it sound natural in English, but I could not transform it into English poems.

In any case, I don’t think the poems should sound like English poems anyway, because they are the thoughts of a Portuguese poet looking into some of the most significant social issues in his country. The poems have to convey some of his Portuguese soul, some of his way of feeling and expressing himself. If he sounds like an Englishman, it makes no sense…

I believe that this is the main difference between translating medical and business reports and poems. With the first, your goal is accuracy, ensuring everything is translated with precision and the professional tone is maintained; whereas with the second, your goal is to convey the emotion, but you still want the voice of the poet to pervade the translation. I cannot thank my client enough for the challenge and for his confidence in me. I had a thoroughly enjoyable week at work!

Mind Your Language

10 09 2012

I have just come across this really funny British sitcom from the 70s. It is about teaching English as a foreign language and the cultural clashes between the students from different nationalities and the very British teacher. Brilliant!

The first part of the first episode, which you can watch on YouTube here, is hilarious. I am sure anyone who has learned a second language, particularly English will relate in some way to it. Enjoy!



Researching Terminology

13 08 2012

I am working on a technical manual for a mining company and I have come across a term that I will need to research a bit more thoroughly so I will show you step by step how I usually go about it.

The term in Portuguese is “madeira contraventada” (which is wood + a female adjective) and the manual is talking about types of rail cars made of this material. I want to translate it into English.

My first attempt at finding it is going to Proz Terminology and trying to find it there. No luck. The only thing I can find there is the opposite of the male word “não-contraventado“, which is “unbraced”. A long shot would say that “madeira contraventada” would be “braced wood”. I am not sure that “braced wood” is a term in English, Google translator (and this is one of the few acceptable uses for  google translator in professional translation -i.e. a word guide) does not have a translation for “contraventada” anyway.

So my next step, is to determine exactly what contraventada is in Portuguese. According to the dictionary, it means “supported, strengthened, made more resistant”, which seems to match the meaning found for “braced” in my hardcopy English<>Portuguese dictionary.

This is promising, so I do a quick search on Google UK to see if it comes up with entries for “braced wood”. (Important tip: make sure you search exclusively websites from an English-speaking country; do not go into Google Brazil and try to find it, because you may find several mistranslations that will mislead you into thinking you have got the right term. If you are Brazilian, you probably construe meaning in a similar way to other Brazilians, so a translation that may seem to make sense to you, because it did for another Brazilian, will not necessarily be the right term).  There are 3,140 entries, which is not that much in Google terms, but the term has been found in websites such as the “Engineered Wood Products Association“, which seems to be a reputable agency in the U.S. in the relevant industry.

Hence, I am satisfied that I have a good, or at least understandable, translation for my term.

I hope this process is helpful to other translators. Suggestions are always welcome.