As regular readers of my articles will have realized, last week’s article was the final chapter of Sid’s Adventures in Spain. I hope the experience of reading about Sid every week has been an enjoyable, as well as an educational one. From my point of view it has been a considerable challenge to produce the articles on a weekly basis but one that has been of great personal benefit.
I always knew that translation was a difficult task, and much more complicated than the average person realizes. As I have said many times to my students, learning another language is not just a question of learning equivalent words and stringing them together as you would in your own language. Each language has its own structure, cultural meanings and even an order in which thoughts are put together. We have all seen the results of poor translation, usually found in menus, brochures and the like. I can sometimes picture some poor waiter, who perhaps told his boss at his interview that he spoke English, sweating over a dictionary, and coming up with the kinds of translations that later fill his English customers with mirth. Just down the road from my house there is a chalk board menu proudly displaying its list of “covers” – yes, one of the dictionary definitions of “tapas”. My personal favourite was in Galicia, actually in the foyer of a very posh Parador which should have known better, which advertised the local speciality of “pulpo a la feria” as “fairy octopus”. I was with my mother at the time, and we had one of those awful moments when we couldn’t stop giggling, made worse by the extremely serious security guard who was eyeing us with suspicion.
So yes, translation is obviously quite a lot more complex than that, but I have now decided it is a question of “stages”. When I write about Sid in English, I write in a style that comes naturally to me. Unfortunately I am often guilty of producing very long sentences with lots of sub-clauses and with a subtle irony in my choice of words. Well, that’s my style, and I made a conscious decision from the beginning of the “Sid” articles to keep to it, and worry about translating it afterwards! Stage number two is to try and capture in my less than perfect Spanish (well indeed my Spanish is not, and never will be, as good as my English!) the basic meaning of what I want to say. After this is done I comb through the text several more times to try and make it sound as “Spanish” as I can, without losing any of the original meaning. At this point I let one of my bilingual children loose on it, and then ensues a classic case of “role-reversal”. All of a sudden I am the pupil getting my homework back from a disapproving teacher. “You always forget the ‘de’ after ‘darse cuenta’” (Yes, Miss) and this verb has to be a subjunctive – you know that Mum! (Yes, Miss), and that word sounds peculiar (Well, I looked it up in the dictionary, Miss). Well I’ve never heard it, it should be ……..
But like all good students I don’t fully trust my teenage teacher either, so I obey some of her corrections, and stubbornly leave other bits as they are. And that, dear Reader, is what you have been treated to week after week! In my opinion, and I hope you agree, it has been a good enough tool for a Spanish language students to learn from, which is the point of my weekly article in the first place.
When I was about ten chapters from the end (round about the point where Sid bumped into Sylvia in the park, after the bull-fighting debacle) I made the decision to turn Sid’s Adventures in a book. I had done the rounds of publishers several times in the past with zero success, so I decided to save myself that grief by going straight down the route of “self-publishing” (no longer referred to as “vanity publishing” I hasten to add), but this time using an agency rather than doing the whole thing myself, which is another form of self-inflicted torture.
And that more or less sums up how I have spent my summer! I have lost count of how many times poor old Sid has been proof-read, or how many hours I have spent with my Spanish editor, who on occasions I have visited very early in the morning before her children have woken up and in the end not left until lunch time. Until you do something like this yourself, you have no idea how time-consuming and brain-distorting it is. I think producing a book is rather like child birth. You go through it once and say never again. Then you forget just how awful it was and start all over again! That must be a natural process which ensures the survival of the species, but what Darwinian theory I am currently living out I’m not quite sure.
But back to the language – I have discovered so many things! Even though I have read many Spanish novels, I had never noticed before just how different Spanish punctuation is! Even the commas go in completely different places from English. Then how many extra words we put (or at least, I put) into English which just don’t translate, especially things like “actually”, “just”, “quite”, “yet” and many more. And then there is the business of a “full day”. “What is a “full day?” my editor Nieves asks me. On a number of occasions I refer to someone’s “last full day in Spain”. “Well, it means they catch their plane at midday one day, so the day before that is their “last full day”. She looks at me as if I am mad. “We’ll just put “último día” then.” “Okay, fine.”
Whilst Sid is still undergoing this process, his son Charlie has taken on a life of his own. Charlie’s story will be on these pages next week, and I hope you will greet him with the consideration he deserves. He doesn’t know what he’s let himself in for!