Microsoft and Translation


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In the past I have written about how advancements in technology can affect translators and interpreters. If the Industrial Revolution was the turning point in history that allowed machines to replace humans in manual labor, can the technological era we’re in lead to replace humans in positions that require “mental labor”?

I don’t think we’re in a moment when we can actually determine whether translators can be replaced by Google Translator and for it to produce the same outcome. What I do believe is that there have been surprising advancements for machine translation software, even if this may not be such a positive advancement for us human translators.

At the Microsoft Research Asia’s 21st Century Computing, Microsoft’s Chief Research Officer, Rick Rashid, presented a new type of translation tool. Using Deep Neural Networks, an algorithm that imitates how the brain functions, it can translate using your own voice into the target language.

It seems like machines are becoming more and more like us every day…

Why It’s So Hard To Translate Love


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People are usually eager to hear those three little words: I love you. This may apply to everyone except for Spanish translators. In English, there’s a huge gap from “I like you” to “I love you”. In the process, you might hear “I care about you”, “I like you a lot”, “You’re important to me” and a bunch of other phrases that mean more than like but a lot less than love.

When it comes to Spanish, a translator working on subtitles for a movie or a book translation has two options: “te quiero” or “te amo”. The first is what dog owners say to their pets when they scratch their bellies. It’s what best friends say to each other and it’s also what couples usually say in the early stage of the relationship. “Te quiero” can also literally be translated as “I want you” in English. Nonetheless, it is not as powerful as saying “te amo”. You reserve those words for your family members, someone you’re falling for or for your husband/wife.  This is, of course, according to me. But each translator decides which term to use when working on a particular project.

I turned to Google to find out how P.S. I Love You, a romantic flick, is titled in Spanish. Even before I pressed enter it seemed like the problem is not just one that baffles me.

pos data

  It also reminded me about another movie. In Love and Other Drugs (Amor y otras adicciones), one of the characters confesses he is in love. He declares it’s the first time he has ever said it to anyone since he never even said it to his family members. In that scene, it seems like the powerful words even cause him to have a panic attack. His love interest doesn’t say it back, but she does admit to having said it once to a cat before. The subtitles in Spanish, at least in the version I saw, were “te quiero”. I felt that due to the context, the seriousness of saying those words for the first time in a lifetime would only be justified with “te amo”.

love you


What do you think? I love you = Is it te amo or te quiero?

Mistranslations & Assumptions


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My friends and family members roll their eyes when I correct their grammar or point out a mistranslation. Instead of faking awe, they usually make fun of me for being so picky. On a summer day, they stumbled upon this sign at a laundry mat in Stamford, CT. This time, they could not just laugh at the “mistranslation”. With much fervor, they told me about what happened when they spoke to the supervisor about changing one of the most hideous (translation wise) signs they had ever seen. Like most people do, he simply shrugged them off, but he made a big mistake in the process. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. That isn’t Spanish, it’s some sort of language from a country called Ecuador”. That was definitely the wrong thing to say to Ecuadorians.

First of all, this is definitely not a language from Ecuador and it is a very poor try at Spanish.

Second, If you do see any mistranslations at public places, like the ones in this Huffington Post article, say something, but don’t assume it’s “some sort of language from a country like ___________.”

Don’t just make fun of them, do something!

Project Glass: Should Interpreters Be Afraid?


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Over the years, many have questioned whether machines will ever beat out ordinary humans in certain categories. We have applications, smart phones and iPads that allow humans to do things quicker and easier. But can a machine ever leave interpreters or translators out of their jobs? There are different types of translation software available, some that are even known for their “high accuracy”.

Recently, Project Glass has been receiving a lot of attention in the technology and translation department. These glasses have diverse functions, and one of them consists of providing the translation of a spoken language. In the above video you can see how the glasses work. Even with the “remarkable” example, I think that it is safe to say that interpreters don’t need to worry. Something that a machine cannot do is use critical thinking to decide the context of a word or a term. How would the Project Glass translate the following?:

I had to console my brother after mom sold his console.

What do you think about the translation application featured in Project Glass?

Can You Do An Irish Accent For Me, Please?


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It is amazing that depending on where you were raised or who you were raised with, you have a specific accent. That the place we grow up in can influence the whirl of our tongue, the intonation of our words, and how grave vowels sound is completely fascinating.

I love accents. On a personal note, when I’m walking somewhere or when I meet someone new I always listen closely to the sound of their words. You can tell a lot by what letters are left out from certain words, how much of a sing song voice they have, or if they leave their Rs riding on their tongue for much too long. Although you might not be able to tell where people might be from sometimes you can tell where they have been lately.

Nevertheless, it’s not very polite to make assumptions. Your guesses might just be wrong. This is why I especially liked the following article by Ross Kenneth Urken titled “What My Nanny Left Me: How A Jewish Boy From New Jersey Ended Up With A Jamaican Accent.” Urken may have learned many things from his nanny, and that Jamaican accent that stuck is just one of them. I wonder how many times people have tilted their heads and said “where are you from exactly?” After they got an answer, perplexity was most likely the next reaction. This is why you should never make any assumptions.

There are all sorts of accents, sometimes not only determined by country but even by city or region: New York, Boston, the South (US), Northern Mexico, Southern Mexico, Coastal region of Ecuador, the Sierra region of Ecuador, etc.

In Ecuador, it would seem like each region has its own accent. People from the Coastal region are known for talking in Spanish too quickly and leaving out the S from certain words and inserting the J where it shouldn’t. For example, “Las aulas” can sometimes be heard as “La-jaula”. Of course, most Ecuadorians from the coast would never admit this, just like those from the Sierra won’t admit to placing a long R in places where it most definitely doesn’t belong.

Since an accent may imply lack of clear pronunciation, words and phrases may come out just plain old wrong. But I think that’s the beauty of accents. They might be a threat to good pronuncitation (and even grammar), but they sound so fun and alien that you can’t help but love them…and imitate them.

Here are some translations of certain accents:

  • Irish Accent

-Ah, howiyas! What’s da starry? Are ya well? Ah dah’s grand, so it is!

-Ah, how are you all? What’s up? Are you alright? Ah that’s good!

  • Boston Accent

- Pahk the cah in Havahd Yahd.

- Park the car in Harvard Yard.

  • Jamaican Accent

-Tanks brodda.

-Thanks brother.

  • NY Accent

-Tawk the wawk, wawk the wawk. Smmatuhr wit yu?

-Talk the talk, walk the walk. What’s the matter with you?

Literary Translators: Raise Your Hands and Be Proud


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badgirlOh, to be a writer. All writers know that their work reflects their internal battles, beliefs and fantasies. This applies even more to novel writers. What happens when their work needs to be translated? Did Kafka ever think that his stories would be translated in so many languages? The point is writers want to write good books, but seldom think about good translations.

I have been reading The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa, originally written in Spanish as Travesuras de la niña mala. It was translated by Edith Grossman, the award winning literary translator. She has translated Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ariel Dorfam and even Cervantes. Up until now, even though I haven’t finished it, I have thoroughly enjoyed the book and I can’t help but laugh at how ironic it is that the main character from the novel is an UNESCO translator/ interpreter.

A parade of questions has sprung up as I’ve been reading this novel:

  • Did Mario Vargas Llosa pick Edith as his translator or did he have nothing to do with it?
  • Why would Vargas Llosa decide to write a novel with a translator as a main character? I personally think it’s an honor he did this
  • Did Edith Grossman let out a small laugh when the bad girl says, “What kind of match for the wife of a French diplomat can a little puissant translator for UNESCO be?”

And most of all:

  • Why are just 3% of all books published in the United States works of translation?

If we have great translators like Edith Grossman working on novels there is no reason to limit literary translations. Why would anyone want to prevent an English reader from finding out if the bad girl in Vargas Llosa’s story stops teasing Ricardo? After all, Dante Alighieri’s mentality of being against translating is sooo  11th century, don’t you think?

This is exactly why I believe that Edith Grossman justly won the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute Translation Prize and that I suggest everyone read her book, Why Translation Matters.

Why does it matter? Well, if you have read Love In The Time of Cholera in English and don’t know one word of Spanish, you know exactly why.

In an interview with La Nación Edith Grossman said, “We English-speakers are not interested in translations”.

Grossman has been fervently trying to change this over the years and if you have ever read anything translated, you can keep on supporting her stance.

Read literary translations, find out who translated the book you’re reading and, most of all, make sure you’re mentality is not like the bad girl from Vargas Llosas’s novel. Don’t put down translators. They work their asses off just like any French diplomat does.



Oh, by the way… I’m baaaaaaaaaaaack!

Ooklay In The Agbay


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Remember when you were in high school and didn’t want your parents to know what you were talking about with your friends?

The “secret” language used was Pig Latin. It’s very simple, you move the first letter of each word to the end followed by ay. The words that have become common English slang are ixnay and amscray. I’m sure you’ve heard them at one point in time!

But where did Pig Latin come from? And why is it called pig latin?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the “ultimate origin is unknown”. Womp, womp, womp.

Nonetheless, what is known is that Edgar Allen Poe used the phrase “Pig Greek” dating back to 1844.  The Three Stooges made it extremely popular (Oe-may and Arry-lay) and the first time I heard it was in the 2001 movie Monsters Inc, when Sulley says “Ooklay in the agbay”.

Here is a Pig Latin Generator to check it out!

Ecuadorian Food 101 (Part I)


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If you were to ask me what the best thing about my country is, I wouldn’t stutter at saying it’s the food. Whether it’s typical food from the coast or the sierra, the taste is equally delicious.

And now that I only have a month left here, I’ve set out to eat my favorite plates before I go. Wherever I may be, I know that I’ll get a craving for the citrus juice of a well made ceviche or the peanut salsa on some llapingachos. All of the following pictures were taken by me recently, whether at a restaurant or at my house. If you ever come to Ecuador, don’t even dare leaving without trying these:

  • Encebollado

A fish stew with yuca, tomatoes and onions (cebolla). I can personally put onions on anything, but if you’d rather have it without onions, that’s an option, too. Although you’re kind of going against the etymology/purpose of the plate. You can have it with different type of fish and shrimp. It’s so good!

  • Ceviche

Mix shrimp, fish, octopus or any other sea food you want in lemon and tomato juice and this is what you get. According to Ecuadorians, this is also the best type of hangover food. Just one plate after a night of drinking and you’ll be as good as new.

  • Cangrejos

Favorite food ever.

When we make cangrejos at home we put them in this huge pot with my mom’s secret recipe and eat them with the whole family when they’re cooked just right. I think the pictures say it all.

  • Llapingacho

Potato patties with  fried eggs, sausage, avocados and salsa made from peanuts. Yuuuum!

  • Fanesca

Fanesca is always made during Holy Week, so I only get to enjoy this plate once a year. Since you can’t eat meat, everyone makes fanesca, which is a fish stew usually made from salt cod. Add many types of grains (habas, chocho, corn, peas, etc.) and you get a tasty (and fattening) stew.

Court Interpreting From Afar


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I have recently stumbled upon a Washington Post Article about how the courts in West Virginia are providing interpretation services.

Instead of having the interpreter at the court they are now providing a remote broadcast from North Carolina. The interpreters will be available for all types of settings, such as hearings and trials. The reason this new method has been implemented is because West Virginia has been struggling with budget cuts.

Next week mock trials will be held to try out the new system.

I think that the most positive aspect of this new method is that no one at the courts will be left without an interpreter. There will always be an interpreter available, even if it is from afar.

Nonetheless, I believe that many court interpreters in West Virginia will be jobless, since the ones that will be providing interpretation services will be located in North Carolina.

What about the real-life presence of an interpreter in a court setting? As all interpreters know, it is of the utmost importance to be present to offer your services. As a lawyer or judge in the court setting, if someone’s liberty were at stake I would want the interpreter at the same location. I also believe no one will actually allow a live feed of a lawyer defending the accused from another state. But, of course, this doesn’t apply to the translation/interpretation field.

Any thoughts?


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