Spanish Summer

Let’s face it – this summer of sport belongs to the Spanish. Nadal at Wimbledon, Euro 2008, Sastre in the Tour de France… it’s been a great season for the country of Spain. But this is a country divided by different cultures, foods, even languages. As Independent journalist James Lawton notes, Spain is best described as not a country but a “cohesive nation”.

Take, for example, Catalonia. Laws enforced after the fall of the Franco regime (which itself followed a bloody and divisive civil war) require that Spanish language be taught in state schools for 3 hours a week maximum – the same as English and other foreign languages. More than nine out of 10 people in the region can now speak Catalonian.

This wide variation from region to region in Spain is particularly important to bear in mind with Spanish translation, in terms of both language and culture. For example, tapas (small dishes of food including chorizo and Serrano ham) and Cava (local champagne) are two things that come to mind when you think of Spain, along with the less palatable bull-fighting. Yet of these ‘Spanish’ delicacies, Cava is only produced in Catalonia, and tapas is a Basque tradition.

When it comes to business translation, one rule is key: “Speak your readers’ language”. That is a language that changes from person to person, region to region – not just country to country. Nowhere in the world is this more apparent than in the “cohesive nation” of Espaňa (and that’s before you even consider the variants found within Latin American countries). However, for now, division within the country lies largely forgotten. As stated by Madrid-based political analyst David Mathieson in The Guardian: “Football has united Spain”.

Why you need a professional translator

Language is universal. Or so they say. In fact, sometimes language can feel anything but consistent. When it comes to translating for business, it pays to have a professional translator.

Some businesses would do well to note this. Even brand names are not exempt from the need to research thoroughly before breaking into a new market. For example, the Chinese translation of Coca Cola was initially printed as ‘Ke-kou-ke-la’, on account that it sounded similar to the original (this is known as transliteration). It transpired that ‘Ke-kou-ke-la’ actually meant either ‘bite the wax tadpole’ or ‘female horse stuffed with wax’, depending on the dialect.

Many versions of this cautionary tale abound on the internet. It was the result of a competition gone horribly wrong according to Chinese Wikipedia, with even Coca Cola’s own historian conceding there were issues with these early Chinese translations. After a more careful translation process, considering the meaning as well as the sounds of words, Coke came up with “Ko-kou-ko-le”, which translates, somewhat more appropriately, as “happiness in the mouth”.

One typical downfall for businesses attempting to span the international markets is flagged up in the Institute of Translation and Interpreting guide to successful translation [PDF]:

“Avoid culture-bound clichés. References to your national sport may well fall flat. Ditto literary/cultural metaphors. Tread carefully with references to parts of the human body, viewed differently by different cultures.”

This warning could have saved then-Prime Minister Tony Blair from an embarrassing cultural translation blunder in 1998, when he told a group of Japanese business men that the British Government intended to go “the full Monty” in terms of strengthening the UK economy. This cultural reference was met with blank faces: the film had not yet been released in Japan. Furthermore, the notion of the British Prime Minister stripping off to cheesy music is an image that would probably not rest easily with the hosts’ cultural sensitivities…

The problem with translation is that the term is all too often taken to mean literally translating word for word into the desired language – in reality some things will always be, in a somewhat cliché truth, “lost in translation”. It is only through professional translation that you can ensure that this loss is kept to a minimum. Professional translators keep up to date with terminology, jargon and colloquialisms across a variety of subjects.

What’s more, translation is a skill. It is not enough to be bilingual, just as speaking English doesn’t automatically make you a great copywriter (myself being an exception to the rule of course!). A good professional translation needs to be written gracefully and capture the real meaning of the source text.


Welcome to the newest addition to our WorldAccent website. In this blog, I intend to talk about more than just professional translation. Of course, as a director of a translation company I have plenty to say on that topic, both from a strategic and a day-to-day fundamentals point of view.

But I am also an adopted Londoner of some 30 years. I am frequently captivated by the variety of thriving communities within London, their history and intermingling of languages.

What’s more, here at WorldAccent we view language not as separate but as a part of the wider world. Our everyday experiences both shape and are shaped by the language we use, and I hope to reflect some of this wider picture.

Translation is the key to language, and language is something that I personally find fascinating. I never cease to be amazed by its sheer diversity. I am always impressed, not only by the methods employed to translate these languages by our professional translators, but by the rapid switching between languages in the office around me.

Welcome to my blog, optimistically entitled “Making Sense”. I hope to bring you something interesting and fresh, and I’m sure that’s possible – after all, language is never stagnant.