Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lost (and then scrambled) in Translation



I recently received a letter in German from the German government about paying taxes on foreign royalties for my book EDGE OF ESCAPE. I’m fluent in Spanish but that doesn’t help me decipher German. I plugged the letter into the translate.google site and poof! Generally understandable, but not perfect.

Just for fun I took paragraphs from one of my kids’ books and pasted them into translate.google. The result was pretty good. I was impressed. I decided to go ahead and do my own Spanish version of at least one of my novels. I thought I could let Google do the majority of the work and all I’d have to do is be a Spanish teacher again and correct the mistakes.

Talk about time consuming. All I’m doing is correcting mistakes. Here are some examples of sentences that changed dramatically. The original is first and how it came out in Spanish is second.

Off that way is the owners’ apartment that Mr. Stark lives in but my mom thinks he’s going to let us live there this season. = Not like that is the apartment owners that Mr. Stark is alive but my mom thinks he’s going to let us live this season. Whoa, sounds gruesome.

He jangled the silver key and penlight in front of her face. = He Discordant silver key and a flashlight in front of your face. I kind of like the idea of jangle equaling a discordant sound.

There was no railing and Missy went up only three steps before she started grabbing the next steps with her hands and sort of crab-crawled upwards. = There was no railing and Missy came only three steps before you begin to grasp the next steps with his hands and a kind of crab crawled up. Hmm, I wonder what kind of crab that was . . . snow crab? And how did you and he get involved in this sentence?

And my favorite: He shined the penlight directly into her pupil. = He shined the light on her students.

This experiment made me wonder if the translation of the German letter really said that I’m exempt from Germany’s taxes. Oh, well, Uncle Sam will take a cut regardless.