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English to Spanish Translation

What's a Low-Cost Translation Really Costing You?

Susana C. Schultz
Strictly Spanish LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio

As I opened a can of whipped cream, my eyes were drawn to the big, red Spanish words on one side of the top of the can, by the cap. It said: Tapadera de seguridad. I couldn’t help but chuckle and wondered what the heck did that mean. I turned the can over and I read the English original: Tamper evident cap. OK, I said, so maybe I have lost touch with the “current spoken language” and decided to check myself and do a Google search on the exact term "tapadera de seguridad.” Only nine entries appear on my screen, which tells me that I have not lost touch with reality and that this is yet another one of those translation blunders we are all getting so used to seeing.

The Real Academia Española defines tapadera as: pieza que se ajusta a la boca de alguna cavidad para cubrirla, como en los pucheros, pozos, etc. In English it means that it is a piece that gets adjusted to certain cavities to cover them, as in jars, pots and holes/wells. Somehow I don’t see a cap over a can of whipped cream fitting any of those descriptions, especially since there is no cavity to cover, but a spout to cap. Why not just use, plain and simple “tapa de seguridad”?

This is yet another one of those warnings and texts that we see on packaging that have been translated into Spanish by who knows who, but obviously not by a professional translator or linguist. It reminds me of the horrible English assembly instructions on Asian products, which are being translated from some Asian language by either machines or unqualified individuals. We are all very familiar with those instructions and we have had our share of laughs over the poorly constructed sentences and the odd selection of words. But there is a difference with the stuff I am talking about. These translations are being done in the U.S., by U.S. companies, all trying to capitalize on the increasing Hispanic population and their high purchasing power. U.S. companies should know that a bad translation equals a bad image. Hispanics are very brand loyal, so why put on a package a less than adequate translation?

Let’s get something straight—not everyone who speaks Spanish can translate. Machines can't translate even the simplest of texts. And what might seem to the manufacturer like a very simple statement to translate that anyone can do, it really isn’t. As translators we know that sometimes the simplest of sentences pose the most difficulties in order to capture the true essence of the original. “Tamper evident cap” is one of those simple sentences—or is it? First of all, let’s think in terms of English itself. Sometimes writers of packaging materials get so hung up on being different and creative that what they come up with is odd. What was the writer thinking when he wrote "tamper evident cap”? Why not just "security cap"? Isn’t that what a security cap is? If it has been tampered with, we would know it. We have all been indoctrinated over safety packaging and we all know not to buy or use if something looks like it has been tampered with. So why does the manufacturer have to be so specific? Isn't a tamper evident cap the same thing as a security cap?

As more and more companies translate their packaging, either to reach a certain market segment or to comply with some state or federal packaging regulation, the writing of these packages cannot be done in a vacuum anymore. The company needs to think how a statement is going to work in another language, not just in English anymore. And sometimes opting for something simpler and translatable will have a much better impact: less is more.

And then comes the issue of whether the company trusts a bilingual employee, or one who took Spanish in school to translate, or decides to hire a professional. The result will be a well-translated message or something as horrid as tapadera de seguridad. The funny thing is that probably some of the people who laughed or got offended by the terrible English translations of Asian products, are now responsible for buying Spanish translations for their companies’ products and they are too doing the same thing that the Asian companies have done for years.

As far as I am concerned, when I see a poor Spanish translation I will stop buying that company's products forever. My philosophy is simple, if your product has a poor Spanish translation you don't deserve my business. I will give my business to those who make the effort to provide quality, not only product quality, but total quality which includes having the proper translations, written by professionals, just like their English is.

The tapadera issue is just one of many we see in our everyday lives, not only in Spanish but in any language. Cost is at the bottom of this issue. Cost is the decisive factor for many companies. Packages, and translated materials in general, are full of errors, full of bad translations and it always makes me wonder why companies will sacrifice their image over cost.

This country is full of excellent translation companies and professional translators, then why the bad translations we see all the time? Because there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there who think they can translate and they cannot. As long as companies continue to consider cost as the driving factor for their decisions, there will be errors. There is no replacement for quality, at any cost. And certainly not at the cost of your image.

In closing, let’s not forget that a faulty 10-cent piece is what brought down the Challenger, killed 7 brilliant people and put a halt to the space program at NASA and NASA itself for many years.

Don’t let a 10-cent-a-word translation be the faulty piece that brings down your company’s sales.

It would be another tragedy!

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Let’s get something straight—not everyone who speaks Spanish can translate. Machines can't translate even the simplest of texts.