Category Archives: Spanish technical writing

Read all about it: Upcoming publication of my thesis

Finally, after long months of crafting my Master’s thesis with which I obtained my M.A. in Audiovisual Translation from Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona in 2009, I am pleased to announce that Editorial Académica Española will soon publish it under the title Redacción técnica comparativa: Análisis comparativo de los estilos de redacción en textos técnicos en español en los últimos 40 años (Comparative Technical Writing: A comparative analysis of writing styles in Spanish technical texts in the last 40 years). This 96-page publication will be available in Spanish.

A sample cover is shown below:

Redacción técnica comparativa, by Mario Chávez

I chose this topic because I have observed that technical manuals —especially computer manuals— written in Spanish have undergone significant changes in style for the last four decades. In the 60s and 70s, engineers with a solid knowledge of Spanish and good writing skills wrote computer manuals and were responsible for preserving the authoritative, master-to-student style that is traditional in Spanish handbooks. This style started to change in the late 80s and early 90s with arrival of computerized typesetting and the globalization of manual authoring.

The formal, authoritative style in official Spanish technical publications is part of the personality of a well-written technical manual, akin to the corporate dark suit and necktie Latin American businesspeople are known for. Even in today’s American acculturation of global commerce with its casual wardrobe and in-your-face colloquial speaking mannerisms, this traditional model of authoring Spanish manuals is being preserved and cultivated as a sign of premium quality.

I will be happy to share some excerpts translated in English with my readers who so request it.

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Filed under Master's thesis, My publications, Spanish technical writing, Style, Writing skills

Translators are writers

It’s that simple. Writing is an essential part of the translation process. By the way, how many steps does the translation process involve? Academics from the translationsphere have come up with different workflows, but I would like to offer my own in plain English:

  1. Reflexive reading of the original
  2. Writing of the first draft
  3. Polishing the first draft into a final copy (composition)
  4. Spell-checking
  5. Reflexive reading of the translation

Now, these are visible steps. There are many more steps going on inside the mind for each of the above. I’ll focus on writing.

I have been reading Daniel Cassany’s book titled La cocina de la escritura, an excellent treatise on the art and discipline of writing.  In chapter 3, Accionar máquinas, Cassany explores strategies to overcome writer’s block. It occurred to me that we hit a block because we assume that we have to write something finished. A writer doesn’t produce a publish-ready copy; he goes through drafts.

A translation is never finished. Writing is even more complicated all of a sudden. Then again, for the sake of deadlines, a more or less finished draft of the translation is delivered.

To avoid digressing and losing my readers here, let me ask you: What do you think happens when you write? Say, an email, a note to your spouse, a holiday card to a relative. If your first thought is ‘to communicate something’, you got it half right. It’s a half answer because communication is the means to an end. If you want me to deliver a package to a client containing television parts and you send me an email telling me so, the purpose of the email is not to communicate, but to direct me to do something. Not to order, command or mandate. To direct, to guide me, if you will, to do or achieve something. That email has a functional purpose. This applies to other forms of functional texts, such as procedures, handbooks, quick start guides, installation guides, building plans, etc.

Let’s slow down when it comes to writing and translating. When we write, we are not just assembling words together, stitching them up to ‘communicate’. We are not slaves of the words, quite the contrary. We command the words, we can slow them down to think about them. No wonder many translators forget about their role as writers.

What I would like to leave you with is this: writing involves condensing ideas, sometimes, very complex ideas, into words that should make sense to the reader. Translation is not that different.

 

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Filed under Spanish technical writing, Translation, Translation as writing, Word formation

Stow standard roller bags LENGTHWISE

I am writing from the Silicon Valley today. The mountain air, the wide lanes on 87 South…the outdated Continental terminal at San Jose International Airport.

I am an amateur photographer. Things, not people, inspire my shots. I recently took a picture inside the cabin of a plane before disembarking (sorry, I don’t use deplaning because I think it’s a stupid Americanism).

The object in question is an informative signage in overhead bins: Stow standard roller bags LENGTHWISE and its accompanying Spanish translation: “Guarde equipaje con ruedas A LO LARGO”.

Bilingual signage

Guardar equipaje con ruedas A LO LARGO

What’s wrong with this picture? First, we Spanish speakers will ask ourselves ¿a lo largo de qué? Part of the translation, a lo largo, is, therefore, incomplete because, as an adverbial phrase, it requires a complement. However, lengthwise, an adverb, has been correctly translated…if translation meant just swapping words. But as a proponent of the translation technique known as desverbalización (deverbalization), I have to look deeper for the meaning (or unidades de sentido).

Second, the English has been poorly conceived because the phrase is incomplete. The original meaning, judging from the image, is that carry-ons or roller luggage should be stowed so that the handle will face the bin door. In this meaning, the wheels of whatever luggage contraption you use to carry your belongings will face the back of the bin. So, why use lengthwise?

I am assuming that the writer of the English phrase was thinking of the length the wheels have to travel from the lip of the bin to the back, which is called depth in better written texts. The word length refers to distance. A better instruction would have been Stow standard roller bags with wheels facing back, which is short and to the point. Of course, there are other variations, such as Stow standard roller bags so that handle faces bin door, but limits of space in signage demand a crisper, briefer version.

If anything, this example shows translators (and translation managers, buyers, project managers and other interested parties) how important it is to attach a graphic or figure to illustrate the instruction for clarity. More often than not, the text in and of itself is incomplete or unclear without a graphic. In this particular case, the graphic informs and completes the meaning of the English phrase, and a watchful translator will take it into consideration.

In my upcoming presentation at the Boston ATA Conference in October, I plan on using this item to exemplify one of the best practices in writing technical texts in Spanish. Your comments are always welcome, in English or en español.

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Filed under Bilingual signage, Cultural awareness, Signage, Spanish technical writing, Syntax, Technical writing, Translation errors