Yesterday I did a translation from Portuguese to Spanish. A written translation, of course. Because, as a matter of fact, I don’t speak Portuguese. Never in my life have I studied it. But being a Spanish native speaker, and having studied Italian, French, Latin and other Romance languages, understanding written Portuguese is sort of a given.
Am I writing this text to turn this usual assumption around? No. I did understand it, and I did deliver a good translation, if I can say so myself. But an important part of the reason why the translation was a success, was that I had a talented proofreader who understood the intricacies of both languages and the subtle differences that can mean a world of difference in a translated text.
Romance languages are effectively very close to one another. But precisely because of their similarities, the people who are familiar with only some of them tend to get a little overconfident in understanding them all. Especially when we are talking about Spanish, Portuguese and Italian speakers.
These three cases are so similar that if three people native to any country where these languages are spoken met and talked to each other in their own languages slowly and clearly, they could probably understand most of what the other is saying without much trouble. Reading is usually not that big of a problem, either. They share most their word origins, and the verb tenses are similar in their structures.
But not identical.
Words like “burro” (butter), “salire” (go up) o “genero” (son-in-law) in Italian; “suceso” (event), “vaso” (glass) or “aceite” (oil) in Spanish; and “cena” (scene), criança (child) or “seta” (arrow) in Portuguese; they are all tiny examples that can confuse a translator to the point of delivering a final product that can only be good for a laugh. And whereas that might sound fun for a hobby, it is simply not acceptable for a professional translation agency. After all, they can mean the difference between a choppy job and a translation that can grant you trust and more potential clients.
That is why it is a professional translator’s and proofreader’s job to be aware of this, and to put into a translation all the care and the caution that it deserves, even –or maybe “even more so” would be more fitting- when it is a translation from a language that is especially similar to one’s own. Because we are not doing something that just looks and sounds “right”. We are providing a service that only we can do, and our knowledge, our added value, is key.
And if you are not sure that you can deal with all of this, then don’t be shy to admit it. Always focus on what you do best: don’t go wandering into uncharted territory when you don’t have a proper map. If you are fluent in only two languages, then stick to those.
Better to deliver one high quality product than a thousand mediocre ones, right?