Know Your Market!

By Leticia Molinero

Published in Apuntes (Fall, 1994) in Spanish

and in the ATA Chronicle (January, 1995)

Translation involves providing a service and delivering a product. The product’s success depends on its acceptance in the market.

We all know that verifying proper terminology usage is an importsnt factor in any translation. Otherwise, we would just be playing with words. On the one hand, we have terminology considerations per se, since the same English word can be translated several different ways, depending on the context. For example, level can be translated as nivel (if we are talking about topography), intensidad (if we are talking about light) or a ras de (if we are talking about cooking measurements). The term "outstanding" can be translated as destacado or sobresaliente (general meaning), pendiente de pago ( invoices) or en circulación (shares and other securities). The same holds true for many other technical and non-technical terms. However, while considering the paraticular context of a word, we also have to consider the market for which the translation is intended.

When a client requests a translation, the first thing we need to know is: what is the target market? For translations into Spanish, the market can be the United States, Spain, Latin America, Puerto Rico, or any specific Latin American country. And within the United States, especially for ad copy, we also need to know whether the market is primarily Cuban, Mexican or Puerto Rican.

Many translators find it very irritating when clients ask things like: "You’re from Argentina, are you sure you can handle Castilian Spanish?" or "Can you translate into Mexican Spanish? " Nevertheless, aside from any confusion that U.S. clients may have about dialects of Spanish, we must admit that their concern about the market is a valid and important consideration.

Some large U.S. corporations will pay for one basic translation, e.g. for the European Spanish market, and then ask to have it adapted to Mexico, Central America, or all of Latin America. That’s how some computer ( ordenadores) manuals for Spain become computer (computadores or computadoras ) manuals for Latin America. A few years back, the differences between European and Latin American data processing terminology were greater than they are now. Aside from the basic difference between ordenadaor and computador (both of which mean "computer"), people in Spain used to say fichero rather than archivo (file), tarjeta rather than placa (card), octeto rather than byte, megaocteto rather than megabyte. But, by now, people in Spain are using the terms computadoras and archivos, undoubtedly due to the avalance of un-adapted translations received from the United States.

The way numbers and dates are written also differs depending on the market. All translations into Spanish for consumption within the United States should respect the local style in which numbers and dates are written – in other words, monetary amounts use a decimal point and not a comma, and dates are written with the month first followed by the day. This is also true for Puerto Rico and Mexico. Also, in Mexico, million in a monetary context is written 1’000,000, due to the devaluation of the peso, whereas million referring to other thins is written the same way as in the U.S.

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Contact: leticia@leticiamolinero.com