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Translating for the Educational Market in the U.S.

Susana C. Schultz
Strictly Spanish LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio

In this era of off-shoring translations, it is more critical than ever that the translator and editor take into consideration their target market. That can make a critical difference when translating for the U.S. educational market.

It is very important that the project manager informs their team where the translation will be used. Most subjects will not present a problem, or will they? After all, math is math, world history is world history and geography is geography, right? Well, yes and no. Things are taught differently in the different parts of the world, and in the different parts of this country. So, it is critical to know what word or term to use.

In the current rush to off-shore everything in order to cut costs and pass those costs to the clients, which are vehemently asking for off-shore prices, many translations companies don't take the time to have an editorial staff in the U.S. that is familiar with all the nuances of writing and translating for the U.S. market. It is critical that an experienced editor who lives in the U.S. edits the off-shore translations and sends feedback to the off-shore translator, so that hopefully, that error will not be repeated. That is assuming that the same translator will work again in like projects, which is not always the case.

Some translation companies “shop” translations in all the main translation boards on the Internet every time they have a sizable project, so more than likely the same group of translators will not work on future like projects. This is a big issue in the translation business and that is why established companies with their own translation staff in South America and their own editorial staff in the U.S. are the ones that are getting ahead of the game. Why? Because we offer continuity. Because the same teams work on the projects of the same clients and they “know” the U.S., or state, terminology to use. That is a critical success factor for translations companies and clients alike. Clients need to realize that if they want cheap rates, they will get cheap translations—you get what you pay for.

Creating a crafted product that will not embarrass publishers takes knowledge, expertise, experience, and a team composed of project managers, translators and editors. While the translators are located off-shore, the PMs and the editors must be in the U.S., must have lived in the U.S. for a period of time, and must have assimilated to the culture in order to be experts in the terminology used in the U.S. It is very important that publishers realize that unless the materials are edited here, the product might not be what it should be.

Now let’s talk specifics about the translation issues.

In Latin America they teach that there are 5 continents (Africa, Antarctica, America, Eurasia and Oceania). In the U.S. we teach that the world has 7 continents (North America, South America, Antarctica, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia). In South America, the “Americas” are referred to, and translated as, the “American continent”, “el continente americano,” this presents a problem when the materials are for use in the U.S. We don't teach about the “American continent” in the U.S. because the Americas constitute two continents here, so we have to use “las Américas.” It is not uncommon to see Spanish geography books in this country with that mistake that will definitely confuse students. This is just one single example. There are many. Knowing the target is critical!

When translating math, we have to take into consideration the state where the translation will be used and what terminology the teachers are using to teach the subject. Something as simple as “positional value” can be translated as “valor de posición” in Texas, and “valor posicional” in California. Another example is the translation of array. For Texas, we would translate it as “arreglo” and for California as “matriz.” The term “addition sentence” is simply “suma” in California and “oración de suma” in Texas. Depending on what part of the country the material is going to, the word crayon can be translated as “crayón” or “creyón.” Once again, these are just a few examples and there are many more. Knowing the target market is critical!

American history is in a category of its own because in South America, American history is not taught with the depth that is taught here, for obvious reasons, so it is critical that the translator and editor know the way the subject is taught here in the U.S. and are very familiar with what to translate and what not to translate. For this subject area, it is critical to know what to leave in English because a lot of names remain in English. For example, the term “First Battle of Bull Run” will be translated as la “primera Batalla de Bull Run,” with Bull Run remaining in English. That is also the case with the Battle of Fallen Timbers, where Fallen Timbers remains in English. It is not uncommon to see Bull Run and Fallen Timbers translated, which is an error in judgment on the part of the translator. When we are talking about the American Revolution, if we translate it literally, which American revolution are we talking about? We need to specify that it is the American Revolution of the North-American Colonies, otherwise we could be confusing the student that might think of all the revolutions that were taking place in the Americas. Again, knowing the target market is critical!

Many people ask us, How do we know what to use? Our answer is: experience. Not everyone who speaks Spanish can translate and edit. It takes a well-rounded individual with a lot of education to do a good job. That is where many translation companies fail—they use inexperienced people because they think that anyone who speaks Spanish is a translator. Basically, you get what you pay for.

At Strictly Spanish we are very strict on whom we hire. We require our translators to have a degree in translation from a South American university that offers a 4-year program, and at least five years of experience in the field. We also require them to pass a very tough test. We require our editors to have at least a Bachelor's Degree—but preferably a Master's—in a related field. We also require them to pass a very tough test. It is critical to remember that just like in English, not everyone is a writer of English educational materials, in Spanish, not everyone has what it takes to be a translator and an editor. Just because someone has a Master’s Degree, it doesn’t mean that the individual has good orthography—a critical factor in a good editor.

Knowing your market and working with the right people is not only necessary—it is critical to providing an excellent product to our clients.

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In the current rush to off-shore everything in order to cut costs and pass those costs to the clients, which are vehemently asking for off-shore prices, many translations companies don't take the time to have an editorial staff in the U.S. that is familiar with all the nuances of writing and translating for the U.S. market.