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A Foot in Two Campos

Thoughts from a brand new home-owner in the Axarquía region of Málaga. I hope there might be some information and experiences of use to other new purchasers, plus the occasional line to provoke thought or discussion.

67 - Can't Be Translated!
08 August 2013 @ 11:56

I remember writing a bit of French homework when I was about 12.  It was pretty dire, something about falling in a river and being rescued by a boy, and all I recall is that I ended it by writing that "now he is my boyfriend", and simply putting together the French for boy and the French for friend, coming up with the non-existent word "garçon-ami".  Wrong!  My friend Margaret remembered a similar mis-translation in which she was trying to write about blowing up a balloon, but ended up writing about making it explode.  So we know we can't just translate word-for-word.

I'm at the stage where I can do most basic conversation, so am now wanting to speak in the same way I would in English - ie with a bit of colour, personality, and the odd flowery phrase.  And that's exactly where the problems arise with the translation!   As soon as we begin to use similes and analogies, we hit the buffers (golpeamos los parachoques?  I think not!).   These phrases or clichés are “frases hechas”, or “made phrases” in Spanish.

Along with Jose, my intercambio partner, I have begun to read a Spanish novel.  We are both reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "The Shadow of the Wind" or "La Sombra del Viento" - Jose in English, me in Spanish - chapter by chapter.  We discuss each chapter, looking at how the language is used, and how the similes are translated.  The first one was a great example of the non-translatability of each other's language.  "Bernada affected a ceremonial tone that could not conceal a Cáceres accent thick enough to spread on toast."  A good free translation, using an English expression which is immediately clear, and immediately conjures up a visual image AND a sound picture of the maid. 

The Spanish original line however is  "La Bernarda afectaba un tono ceremonioso que navegaba con acento cacereño cerrado a cal y canto."   So if we were translating word-for-word, we'd have something like "Bernada affected a ceremonial tone that sailed with a Cáceres accent closed, bolted and barred."  The last bit “a cal y canto” is a more literary or poetic extension, whereas normally people simply use the phrase “un acento cerrado” for a strong accent.

I’m enjoying reading the novel and discussing these “frases hechas”, it’s a good way to try and add a little colour to the language – though I’m expecting to make some dramatic errors and get some extremely funny looks in the course of spicing up my conversation!


© Tamara Essex 2013



A “made phrase” or “una frase hecha” that it might be safer to avoid – but worth understanding for when you hear it!  “Ajo y agua”  literally means 'garlic and water' in Spanish, but it is actually a contraction of  ”A JOderse Y AGUAntarse”, which can be taken to mean something like this: “You messed up big-time, and now you have to deal with it.”  Stronger words may be imagined!

For example:

Rafael:   “La engañé a mi novia con otra. Pero ella se enteró y me abandonó.”  “I cheated on my girlfriend with another.  But she found out and she left me.”

Juan:  “Ajo y agua.”


Like 0


Ann said:
10 August 2013 @ 12:19

That's really interesting and you are really doing some sterling work going through the book so diligently. It will surely pay off.

Tony Turtle said:
10 August 2013 @ 13:30

My father tells me that when learning Spanish his tutor gave him some phrases to translate, including "Traffic Jam" - which he struggled with and finally gave "Mermelada de trafico".

Tamara said:
10 August 2013 @ 16:10

Haha LOVE that one Tony! Mind you at least he went for mermelada .... I have heard English people ask for "preservativas de fresas" thinking they are asking for strawberry jam! They actually asked for strawberry condoms!

Steve Hall said:
11 August 2013 @ 02:45

Ann said, "That's really interesting and you are really doing some sterling work going through the book so diligently. It will surely pay off." how would we say "sterling work" ....un buen trabajo? Maybe something more prosaic?

It's definitely not un trabajo esterlino

My favourite of all time? "Pizza 4 Railway Stations" in a bar on Tenerife.

On Tenerife ? Sobre, en cima de or en Tenerife? Isn't language fascinating?

Os deseo mucha suerte ...or do you prefer os deseo buena suerte? (Before we even start on the les/os discussuion=

Me voy.... "qué lástima pero me voy" Julieta Venegas

...and talking about her

"Es probable que lo merezco", one for the purists to debate for ever!

Es probable que lo merezca/mereciese?

Fight, fight, fight!!!

Tamara said:
11 August 2013 @ 11:04

And that's EXACTLY the kind of debste I love Steve! And there was me thinking that only Jose (my intercambio partner) was the only other person THAT interested in the finer points of grammar!

moonbeam said:
11 August 2013 @ 11:40

Still enjoy reading your posts Tamara. Always interesting and entertaining.

I remember wandering around to the local grocery store when I first came here and asking the store owner if he had any eggs, and if so did he have brown eggs and wondering why this appeared to generate suppressed mirth all round, with the storeowner gripping the counter and eyes watering with the effort not to burst out laughing!! I also remember rambling on to a neighbour about the amount of dust in my house and watching his ever wider grin to what I thought was an annoying problem caused by nearby roadworks!! Direct translation can provided a lot of amusement for people.

So important to understand colloquial langauage as well as text book stuff!!!

Patricia (Campana) said:
13 August 2013 @ 14:46

After a while one becomes more attached to the "music" and cadence of the language than the actual grammar. (I learned Spanish - a long time ago- at school and college - and we did grammar inside out and upside down - enough to last a lifetime heh heh).

In any case "preservativo" for those condoms, and the expression "Confitura de fresa" is also used.

On the subject of goodies, thought I'd add this:

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