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Terrible Translations: How not to translate your content for sports tourists



On a recent business trip to Spain, I had some spare time before my flight home, so I decided to explore the sites. This was my third trip to this particular city, and there was only one thing that I had not yet managed to do on my previous visits: the two stadium tours.


The actual stadiums themselves were a real pleasure to visit, but there were aspects of both experiences that left a lot to be desired. The first tour was hardly informative – the guide barely said a word – while the second was self-guided. I’ve done some excellent self-guided stadium tours in the past, with Anfield and the Estádio do Dragão coming straight to mind, especially because the latter was accompanied by excellent English translations. However, on this particular self-guided stadium tour of one of Spain’s elite clubs, I came away shaking my head, because the English translations in the museum were bloody awful. In fact, so awful at times that I resorted to reading the original Spanish versions, because it was easier, requiring less mental strain to understand the intended meaning.


I mean, I can’t be certain, but my instinct tells me that this translation was done by either Google Translate or a Spaniard who speaks good English.


So, as a professional sports and tourism translator myself, I couldn’t help but take a few pictures of these translations with a view to scrutinising them and using them to explain the importance of a professional sports tourism translation, which is exactly what I am going to do in this post.


To respect the club in question, I have refrained from sharing such pictures, instead using my own personal photos from other ground tours, and replaced all words and proper nouns that would make it easy to identify said club with the letter “x” or an explanation in square brackets []. I have also opted to present this post in the following format for each of the three paragraphs that I have chosen to focus on:


· Presentation of original text

· Presentation of official translation used in the club museum

· Analysis of errors in the original/Required improvements for a professional-standard translation with justifications and explanations


So, here it goes:

Spanish original:

LA CONSOLIDACIÓN EN LA ÉLITE (1939-1948)

Tras la interrupción en las competiciones oficiales que supuso el estallido de la Guerra Civil, la infalible delantera ‘x’ trae a las vitrinas del club un nuevo Campeonato de España, el segundo, era el año 1939. En 1946 x se alza con el título más preciado: el Campeonato Nacional de Liga. Esta plantilla campeona continuará trayendo más alegrías a la ciudad.


Official English translation:

CONSOLIDATION IN THE ELITE (1939-1948)

In 1939, after the interruption of the official competitions following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the infallible forward line known as ‘x’ conquers a new Spanish Cup, the second for the Club’s trophy cabinet. In 1946 x finally reaches with the most precious title: the National League Championship. This champion squad will continue bringing more joys to the city.


My English translation:

ELITE STATUS CONFIRMED (1939-1948)

X’s deadly forward line, known as ‘x’, helped the club to secure its second Spanish Cup title in 1939. This meant that they were the first club to win the competition following its suspension during the Spanish Civil War. The [regional demonym] side then went on to achieve its greatest accolade to date in 1946, lifting the Spanish league title, before bringing further joy to the city in subsequent years.


Errors/Required improvements:

· “CONSOLIDATION IN THE ELITE” is comprehensible, but too literal. “ELITE STATUS CONFIRMED” is snappier and sounds more natural in English, especially as the noun “consolidación” has been replaced by the past participle “confirmed”, i.e. a verb form (replacing nouns for verbs is a common technique in Spanish to English translation).


· The first sentence in the official translation is far too wordy, mostly due to the use of “after” and “following” in quick succession. I tried to find a way to keep all the information presented in one sentence, but I struggled, so I decided to split the sentence into two, which helped with the flow and readability. You may also have noticed that I omitted the words “estallido” (“outbreak”) and the phrase “trae a las vitrinas del club” (literally, “brings to the club’s trophy cabinet") from my translation to help me achieve a concise rendition of the original Spanish without losing any of the intended meaning. This is another great example, for those who are unaware, of the fact that translation is not about translating the words, but rather the meaning, which I managed to do in the two aforementioned examples by placing the adjective “second” before “Spanish Cup title” and through the fragment “following its suspension during the Spanish Civil War”.


· “Infallible” is okay, but “deadly” is a better word here in football speak — an adjective commonly used to describe an attack that scores lots of goals.


· “Conquers” is the wrong choice of word here – “lifted”, “claimed” or “won” are most typically used – and the intended meaning is “helped the club win the Spanish cup”, as the forward line can’t win the cup on its own; football is a team sport. Likewise, this is an example of a tense-usage disparity between Spanish and English. Spanish will often use a tense called the present historic, that is, the present tense to refer to past events, while such tense is used sparingly in English and generally sounds ungainly. In this case, and I’m not sure whether it’s just me, but the present historic (“conquers”, or better still, “wins”, “lifts” or “claims”) just doesn’t work in English; I’m a stickler for using the past tense to refer to events in the past, unless it’s for a timeline.


· “Club” doesn’t need to be capitalised towards the end of the first sentence, as it’s not a proper noun. “The second for the club’s trophy cabinet” doesn’t sound natural in English, either, but I’ve already addressed the required changes to the wording and sentence structure in the first sentence of the official English translation, so I won’t say any more about that here.


· The second sentence is too literal in the official English version and written in the wrong tense. Again, this information needs to be expressed in the past tense in English and in much more idiomatic (natural-sounding) English, hence the use of “went on to achieve its greatest accolade to date” and “lifting the…”.


· “National League Championship” sounds ungainly in English, so I opted for the much more natural “[Spanish] league title”.


· Similarly, I changed “x then went on to…” to the “[regional demonym] side then went on to” to avoid repeating the name of the club, which is is a common technique in Spanish to English football translations. As well as drawing on the name of the region, such as in “the Lancastrian outfit” for Burnley, Blackburn Rovers, etc. you could also refer to a club using the head coach’s name, e.g.: “Pep Guardiola’s side” as a synonym for Manchester City; and its nickname, e.g.: “the Tractor Boys” for Ipswich Town, among other things.


· The final sentence is also written in the wrong tense; the Spanish use the future tense (e.g.: “will become”) to refer to events that would go on to happen later in the past, while English uses the conditional (e.g.: “would become”). Therefore, if the same grammatical structure were kept in English, the translation would need to read “This … would continue”. However, by re-wording this fragment and merging the second and third sentences into one, I avoided this issue entirely.


· “The champion squad” is incorrect English. “The [newly-crowned] champions” would probably be the best way to express the same idea.


Spanish original:

LA FINAL DEL CAMPEONATO DE [REGION] DE 1917

El 14 de enero de 1917, x conquistaba por primera vez el Campeonato de [name of region], primero de entre todos los títulos oficiales obtenidos a lo largo de su historia. Tras dehacerse de todos sus rivales en las eliminatorias provinciales previas, a la entidad [demonym for the city where the team plays its home games] le tocó en suerte medir sus fuerzas en semifinales con el x, al que logró derrotar por 3 tantos a 1. En la gran final, disputada a las tres de la tarde del domingo 14 de enero, en el Campo de Mercantil, x se imponía por un contundente 4-0 al x, gracias a los tantos de los míticos x, x, x and x.


Official English translation:

THE 1917 [REGIONAL DEMONYM] CUP FINAL

On 14th January 1917, the x won the [regional demonym] Cup for the first time, the first among all the official titles obtained throughout its history. After eliminating all its opponents in the previous provincial qualifiers, x played the semifinals vs x, defeating them by 3 goals to 1. In the final, played at 3pm on Sunday 14th January, at the Campo de Mercantil, x won by a forceful 4-0 to x, thanks to the goals of the legendary players x, x, x and x.


My English translation:

THE 1917 [REGIONAL DEMONYM] CUP FINAL

X lifted its first ever major trophy on 14 January 1917 in the form of the [regional demonym] Cup. After emerging undefeated from the provincial qualifiers, [head coach’s name]’s side beat x 3-1 in the semi-finals. They would then go on to win the final at Campo de Mercantil, claiming a resounding 4-0 victory over x thanks to goals from the legendary quartet of x, x, x and x.


Errors/Required improvements:

· There is no need to repeat the notion of “first time” by saying “first [regional demonym] Cup” and “first title in its history”. I managed to express the first sentence more concisely in my rendition of the Spanish: “X lifted its first ever major trophy on 14 January 1917 in the form of the [regional demonym] Cup”.


· There is also something else to mention in the first sentence. In Spanish, the definite article “el”, meaning “the”, is usually placed before the name of a team/club, such as “el Real Madrid.” However, you can’t say “the Manchester United” in English, by way of example, so the use of “the [team name]” is an instance of non-compliance with linguistic conventions.


· The second sentence in the official English translation has followed the Spanish sentence structure too closely, and thus, is too wordy. I shortened “after eliminating all its opponents in the previous provincial qualifiers” to “after emerging undefeated from the provincial qualifiers”, as “emerging undefeated” renders the meaning of “eliminating all its opponents” in just two words, and the adjective “previous” is redundant, since “qualifiers” always precede the major rounds in cup competitions. I also shortened the second clause to “[head coach’s name]’s side beat x 3-1 in the semi-finals"; it’s more common to see the scoreline immediately after “beat”, “lost”, “fell” or “defeated” in English. And, once again, I used the synonym “[head coach’s]’s name” to refer to the club in order to avoid repetition.


· There is also no need to mention the kick-off time and repeat the day that the final took place for the second time in the same paragraph in the final sentence, so I omitted both of these references from my translation, especially as trying to include them made it more difficult to craft a sentence that flowed nicely in English and accurately conveyed the meaning.

· “Forceful” doesn’t convey the true meaning of “contundente” in English in this sentence, either; the right word is “comprehensive” or “resounding”.


· “Thanks to the goals of” also needed to be changed to the more idiomatic “thanks to goals from”.


Spanish original:

UNA ÉPOCA DE ENSUEÑO (2005 – actualidad)

La gestión ambiciosa del nuevo presidente x constituyó la vuelta a la grandeza, y los éxitos continuaron llegando en el período de x. X enamora a Europa consiguiendo x [name of competition] en este periodo, hito único. Se suman además x Supercopa de Europa, x nuevos Campeonatos de España y x Supercopa de España.


Official English translation:

A DREAM TIME (2005 – today)

The ambitious management of the new chairman x constituted the return to greatness, and the successes continued to arrive in the period of x. X fell in love with Europe, winning x [name of competition] in this period, a unique milestone. The Club also add x UEFA Super Cup, x new Spanish Cups and the Spanish Super Cup.


My English translation:

THE CLUB’S HEYDAY (2005 – present)

The glory days returned for the club under the ambitious stewardship of its new chairman, x, and continued under head coach x. X fell in love with Europe during this period, winning x [name of competition] — an unrivalled feat. The club has also added x UEFA Super Cups, x new Spanish Cups and a Spanish Super Cup to its trophy cabinet since 2005.


Errors/Required improvements:

· The heading in the official English translation is too literal and has failed to convey a particular nuance: the fact that the club has never been so successful in any other period in its history. Therefore, it is a “dream time” for them, but it’s more the “club’s heyday” than anything else. Also, “(2005 – today)" is incorrect English; we would say “(2005 – present)”.


· “Management” is not quite the right word here, as it fails to convey the idea of the club being “guided”, as well as “managed”. I therefore opted for “stewardship”, particularly as this word is commonly used in relation to club executives and head coaches.


· The first sentence also needed to be reworded, especially as “constituted the return to greatness” is slightly ungainly, so I switched the ideas of returning to greatness and the stewardship of the chairman around. I also replaced “return to greatness” with the much more idiomatic phrase “the glory days returned”. Likewise, this meant that I could also amalgamate the idea of further success under head coach x by simply continuing the sentence with “and continued under head coach x”.


· I’m a huge football fan and I don’t know who [head coach] x is, so I included the word “head coach” before the name x to make it clear who this person is for an English-speaking/international audience, who may also be unaware. This is known as explicitation, i.e. explaining references or information understood by readers of the original text that may be/are unknown to the target audience, that is, those reading the translation.


· “A unique milestone” at the end of the second sentence isn’t wrong, per se, but “an unrivalled feat” hammers home just how unique a feat it is for the club to have won that particular competition so many times, as no other club has done so and it is notoriously difficult to win.


· In the final sentence, tense usage is an issue once again. The period in question, 2005 – present, is still ongoing, so the verb selected, “to add”, should be used in the third-person singular form of the present perfect (“has added”) rather than the present form (“add”). I therefore changed this fragment to “The club has also added x UEFA Super Cups, x new Spanish Cups and a Spanish Super Cup to its trophy cabinet since 2005.” Another point to note here is that I opted for “since 2005” in the final sentence to avoid repeating “during this period”.


So, what can we take from this analysis?


Comparing these dreadful official translations against my theoretical professional versions clearly shows that it pays to hire professional translators. In this case, using what I can only imagine to be a Spanish native or Google Translate led to the occurrence of multiple errors that impact the readability and understanding of the official English translation, including:


· Literal, ungainly renditions of the Spanish text (word-for-word translations may often obscure the intended meaning, which was certainly the case here, particularly at the word level [“contundente” does not mean “forceful” in relation to forwards, for example].)


· Unidiomatic phrasing that a professional native translator would never use (e.g.: “constituted the return to greatness”).


· Incorrect tense usage (Spanish and English do not always use tenses in the same way. Google or a non-professional translator would probably not know this, but a professional would).


· Incorrect application of linguistic conventions (e.g.: the noun “club” being unnecessarily – and wrongly – capitalised in the middle of a sentence).


Similarly, when we’re talking about huge institutions, in this case an elite Spanish football club, poor translations may also tarnish their reputation. If a club has won multiple European titles and is consistently competing in Spain’s top flight, money is certainly not an issue, so there’s no excuse for them not to hire a professional translator to translate the panels in their museum. A poor translation of such materials also risks alienating English-speaking and international visitors to their museum, myself included.


In a nutshell, as proven in this post, there are so many things that could possibly go wrong in a translation if you don’t hire a professional. The translation process requires great thought from a linguistic and cultural perspective that takes years of training and continuing professional development to fully master, hence why there aren’t many of us who can do it professionally, and most importantly, correctly.


So, please entrust competent and native professional translators specialising in your respective field with the translation of your content. That’s the only recipe for success!

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