Spring 2015

Students’ Spanish Skills Translate to the Real World

Estudiantes de español aprenden a traducir en la vida real

Professor Rosamel Benavides-Garb

FROM HELPING NON-ENGLISH speaking parents confer with their children’s teachers to translating Department of Fish & Wildlife regulations, the hands-on component of Rosamel Benavides-Garb’s Spanish 308S class has a variety of applications.

But as important as those roles are, the skills students develop in the Introduction to Translation/Interpretation class might someday have a much greater impact. In fact, they could be the difference between life and death.

“There are many examples of a patient’s family being unable to communicate with doctors or emergency room personnel, with tragic consequences,” Benavides-Garb says. “It has meant the difference between the appropriate medicine being given, or how the symptoms were described.”

Benavides-Garb shares those stories with his students to underscore the challenge they’re undertaking. Most of the fieldwork they complete, however, has its own challenges and is important in its own right.

Critical to success in the class is understanding the social, cultural, and even legal aspects of translation and interpretation. Without that knowledge, conversations or printed materials can miss the mark.

“This isn’t Google translate,” Benavides-Garb says. “You have to make a judgment call and use critical thinking. Interpreters must understand the concept of audience. Who is requiring their services? Is it a university professor or a child’s parent who hasn’t had any education beyond elementary school?”

During fall semester, students had the opportunity to serve both of those demographics. When a Chilean delegation representing the Corporación Nacional Forestal, the equivalent of the U.S. National Park Service, toured the area, translation students served as the communication link between the visitors and local Parks officials.

“It was a great feeling to know that our interpretation helped,” says Jocelyn López Ibarra, one of 26 students in the class. “We came away with a realization that the small exchange between groups gave the scientists access to new resources that could attract attention and ultimately help save the environment.”

While experiences like the Chilean visit are less frequent, a community outreach partnership with the Humboldt County Office of Education has provided many opportunities for Benavides-Garb’s students to utilize their skills. Through the partnership, students have translated for parents at Parent Teacher Organization meetings and conferences where children previously had to translate.

“The parents feel like they’re participating. They feel integrated into the school system more than they had previously,” Benavides-Garb says. “When my students see that connection being made for the first time, it’s a magic moment for them.

Other projects have included developing brochures for the Discovery Museum in Eureka and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. The translation of the latter group’s rules and regulations could have a significant impact on enforcement.

“They found out that many Hispanic people were breaking laws simply because they didn’t know the rules,” Benavides-Garb says.

Many of Benavides-Garb’s students are already considering careers in the field. Leah Tharp, who is a Recreation Studies major, picked up a minor in Spanish, and is hoping to combine the two and travel throughout South America.

Another student, Yutaro Takahashi, came to HSU after attending the Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages in his native country of Japan. For the first time, he is reflecting on translations and interpretation dynamics between Spanish, English and Japanese. Now, he would like to apply his knowledge to facilitate communications between those cultures.

“Rosamel has given us the knowledge and exposed us to experiences that change a student’s entire perspective on the importance of interpretation,” López Ibarra says. “Not only is he a great professor, lecturer and advisor, he’s also a great guy.”

Lost in Translation

TRANSLATION AND INTERPRETATION is a tricky business. Slang, puns, and even simple, direct, messages can confuse, offend or mislead. Misinterpreted medical terms can take a tragic turn, and unintended violations of law might land someone in the slammer, just because they couldn’t read the rules. Don’t even attempt irony, sarcasm, or idiom.

“For example, saying, ‘he kicked the bucket’ doesn’t make sense in Spanish,” says Rosamel Benavides-Garb, chair of the Department of World Languages & Cultures. “With many of these terms, you don’t even come close. That’s why translators and interpreters must have a great understanding of context.”

Some translations are so bad they can be banned. California State Law prohibits translating the phrase “notary public” literally into Spanish, because instead of translating into “someone who can authenticate signatures and take oaths,” the phrase translates into “government official.”

Here are some translations that missed the mark:

Exit sign at coffee shop:
English: “Exit Only”
Spanish translation: “Éxito Aquí”
Literal: “Find Success Here”

American Dairy Association slogan:
English: “Got Milk?”
Spanish translation: “Tiene Leche?”
Literal: “Are you lactating?”

Chevrolet introduces its new car, the Nova,
in South America.
English: “Nova”
Spanish translation: When spoken “Nova” sounds like “no va.”
Literal: “It doesn’t go.”

Parker Pens marketing campaign:
English: “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.”
Spanish translation: “No te embarazará chorreándose
en tu bolsillo.”
Literal: “It won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you.”

Billboard advertising Frank Perdue’s Chicken
English: “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken.”
Spanish translation: “Se necesita un hombre duro para enternecer un pollo.”
Literal: “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

English idiom: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Spanish translation: “El alcohol está dispuesto, pero la carne es débil.”
Literal: “The alcohol is prepared, but the meat is fragile.”

English Idiom: “He always speaks his mind.”
Spanish translation: “Él no tiene pelos en la lengua.”
Literal: “He doesn’t have hairs on the tongue.”