A translator in Barcelona

Another guest post from my fellow translator, Catherine Christaki, I feel honoured she chose me to host her first ever blog post. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

By Catherine Christaki                               Follow her on Twitter @LinguaGreca

Visiting Barcelona has been a life-long dream, which finally came true last May with the added bonus of supporting the great Greek basketball team Panathinaikos for the Euroleague Final Four (European basketball competition). Just in case you were wondering, the team won the first place making all their fans exhilaratingly happy (including myself & hubby). The excitement for the game, the palpable & festive atmosphere in the stadium can’t really be described, there’s nothing like it. And such sports events are even greater for women, because the ratio is something like 50:1, so the boys treat us women like queens.

Barcelona, what a beauty!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much available time to see and explore the gorgeous city of Barcelona during our short trip. We barely managed to take a short tour around the city on Friday morning, a stroll in La Rambla on Saturday followed by a flamenco show in Tablao Flamenco Cordobes that same night. So, travel-wise it was only an amuse-bouche, but we’ll be back to explore more, Barcelona hasn’t lost her spot on our destinations priority list, it’s even gone up a few places.

My language experience with Catalan

Let’s get to the language part of this post. I don’t speak Spanish or Catalan (only had a semester’s worth of learning while in Uni – Spanish for beginners, but it’s safe to say that I don’t remember any of it, it’s been a while since then and we all know what happens when you don’t regularly practice your language skills). Plus, I intentionally did no research on the differences of the two languages so that my comments would be more “pure” as a mere visitor and not a linguist. So, here goes:

What’s Catalan for “I can’t speak English”?

As tourists, we went to a few shops and restaurants during our short trip. In some cases, people didn’t even know or understand even the basic words that would be necessary to communicate with tourists. Don’t get me wrong, maybe I interacted with the wrong people and it was just a coincidence. But people kept talking to me in Spanish or Catalan even though it was clear I had no idea what they were on about. And some of them weren’t even very polite or hospitable and didn’t seem keen to make the extra effort, even just using body language. Of course, there were also many helpful and hospitable Catalans who made the whole travel experience even more enjoyable.

The French influence

From my short experience with Catalan, I noticed that the language influence from French is rather significant. It was easier for me to understand Catalan words because I can speak French and not because of my limited knowledge of Spanish. Someone told me that the Catalan equivalent for ‘thank you’ is ‘merci’. Why is that? I think that the two cultures are very different, so I couldn’t imagine the reason behind that heavy influence. Is it because they are neighboring countries? Bulgaria and Turkey are neighbors of Greece, but our languages are far from similar.

Lost in hospitality

Being a translator, it’s not hard to understand why I always notice spelling, grammar and translation mistakes everywhere I go, even in languages I don’t understand. It’s part of the job, most of us do it. So, I should mention a translation blunder I noticed on a poster in the hotel elevator (about breakfast). I don’t remember the Spanish phrase, but the English said “go off on right foot” and it made me laugh. That reminds me of another example. In a London hotel this time, in the elevator again, there was a letter from the manager welcoming guests etc. In one A4 page, less than 300 words, I spotted more than 20 spelling and grammar mistakes (in English!). I decided to alert the receptionist (even offered to help) and she told me it will be taken care of. Nothing had happened until our departure a few days later. Now, what does that say about the hotel’s brand or the hotel staff’s professionalism?

The Twitter connection

My Barcelona trip gave me the opportunity to meet a fellow translator, whom I had virtually met on Twitter. How great is that? I always love meeting new colleagues and with Twitter breaking the ice of the first contact, everything is easier now. Stefan (@SKTranslations), thank you again for the lovely conversation we had, it was one of the highlights of my Barcelona trip!

Special thank you to Silvina (@ATGTranslations), Moiraine (@MoiraineM), Samar (@samarowais) and Konstantina (@wordyrama) for offering to read the post and providing feedback. The comments were very useful and so good, what a support team! I’d also like to thank my gracious host Aga for agreeing to publish my first ever blog post in her blog. We all need help at the beginning of exciting ventures and in this case my Twitter friends have made all the difference.

About the author: Catherine is a freelance translator (English, French & German to Greek), specializing in IT, Medical and Technical texts. She has recently been awarded the 10th place at the Top 25 Language Twitterers 2011 competition. Find out more about her by visiting her profile on Proz. Her website and blog will soon be available online. You can follow her on Twitter at @LinguaGreca.


About acgtranslation

Highly qualified English Polish translator and entrepreneur, business coach and consultant, quantum chemistry researcher and lecturer. Translation specialities: Business, Scientific and Medical Translation. Bilingual with two bilingual daughters; vivid reader.

Posted on June 1, 2011, in Guest posts. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. You are a very bright individual!

  2. My wife is half Italian, half Polish, speaks neither but translates French to English. My father-in-law Dr, Zbigniew Pelczynski speaks nine languages and writes in at least four. Do keep posting you translation anecdotes. We have a collection of dreadful French to English ; the problem I explain to them is that even if translated literally we in English would never, for example, describe a ski resort as a ‘place where the gods meet to play, and have fun in the exciting snow, mountains and reliable lift with creche places for children …’

    • Thanks you for your nice comment. It is always nice from people with Polish connections and love for languages. Yes, some people, even seemingly professional translators, do not seem to understand that translation is not simply replacing words with the equivalent in the other language, but requires deep understanding and then conveying a message in the target language in a way how native would express it. If they neither well versed in the culture nor good writers, the results can be very poor indeed. The ski resort would not have been ‘a place where gods meet to play’ with ‘reliable lift’ in Polish either (LOL!).

  3. Thank you for you kind word of appreciation, Silvina:)

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