How I Travel as a Translator With a Chronic Illness

I had never heard of Myasthenia Gravis until my friend, Maria Fernanda, was diagnosed with this chronic illness in 2013. We met in 2008 while we both worked towards obtaining degrees in translation and interpretation. We bonded as translation geeks over weekly happy hour sessions, through discussions about our terrible love lives, our mutual love of dogs and trips to the beach. As our lives began to lead us in different paths (I haven’t physically seen her since she said goodbye to me at an airport in 2012), we are still connected through WhatsApp and as traveling translators.

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Microsoft and Translation


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

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

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!

©️ 2017