misadventures in translation

On my first quiz in translation class a few weeks ago I had to stifle my laughter in the middle of the quiz because of the ridiculous Spanish “words” I was inventing to translate the phrase “four-wheel antilock minivan brakes.”

Today, I didn’t laugh during the quiz but did turn it in with the general sense of unease that comes when you’re nearly certain you royally butchered a key word in the text but you don’t yet know which or how badly.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my version of the short article from today’s quiz, back-translated to English from my painful rendering in Spanish. I chuckled all through lunch.

Please imagine this scene as vividly as possible:

In the results that make obvious that appetite is often a case of “the mental over the material,” a new study says that the memory of a big recent meal can fill you up. But the memory of a stingy portion of food – even an incorrect memory – can make you hungrier and cause you to eat more the next time, said the researchers.

The study published Wednesday in the journal Public Library of Science One, used a naive trick to manipulate the memory of the subject’s lunch: at the bottom of a ferret filled with cream of tomato soup, they installed a hidden pumpa* that they could use to secretly refill or take out its contents while the subjects ate it.

The researchers wondered if the subjects who were tricked by the said manipulation would then remember the sight of the big 500-mg portion of soup they ate or if they would in some manner remember the smaller 300-mg portion they ate. And they wondered if the appetite of the subjects as the hour of dinner arrived would be lead by the lunch they ate or the more satisfying food they thought they ate.

When asked how hungry the subjects were as the hour to eat dinner arrived, the memories of the food the subjects saw – not the the food they ate – had the most influence. Even when their ferrets of soup were being slowly emptied, the subjects who sat in front of a big ferret of soup were less hungry. And they who were presented with a small ferret of soup said they were more hungry – even if the researchers in back of the stage refilled their ferrets.

*I made up a word for pump. It does not exist in Spanish.

Now, the original article:

In a finding that makes clear that appetite is often a case of mind over matter, new research finds that the memory of a hearty recent meal can fill you up. But the memory of a stingy serving of victuals — even an inaccurate memory — can make you hungrier, and prompt heavier eating at the next meal, researchers found.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Public Library of Science One, used an ingenious trick to manipulate research subjects’ memories of a lunchtime meal they had: At the bottom of a soup bowl filled with cream of tomato soup, they installed a hidden pump, which could be used to surreptitiously refill the  bowl while the subject ate or draw down its contents.

The researchers wondered whether subjects tricked by such a manipulation would later remember the sight of the hefty 500-mg serving of soup they were asked to eat, or whether they would somehow register the punier 300-mg serving they actually ate. And they wondered whether, as dinnertime approached, the subjects’ appetite would be driven by the actual lunch they had eaten or the more satisfying meal they thought they ate.

When asked how hungry they were as dinnertime approached, subjects’ memories of the meal they saw — not the one they ate — seemed to be most influential. Even when their soup bowls were steadily drained, those who were seated in front of a large bowl of soup were less hungry. And those who were presented with a small bowl of soup pronounced themselves more hungry — even if researchers behind the scenes were steadily refilling their bowls.

How I came up with the word turón for bowl, I’ll never be sure. I was aware I didn’t consciously know the word, so when turón popped into my mind, I just went for it. My only guess is that it reminds me of the word tureen in English, which is indeed a bowl. And the word turrón (two Rs make all the difference) is a food and also a word I’ve been seeing a lot recently, since it’s a nut-filled Christmas nougat that appeared in grocery stores last week. I guess I combined the two in my subconscious to come up with the unfortunate turón, which literally means polecat – a ferret. It even has the same accent pattern as the actual word for bowl: tazón. Tazón tazón tazón. Heaven help.


second language confusion

Vivobarefoot evo pure

Humor me for a moment, and let’s imagine something together.

You’re nine years old. For as long as you’ve been able to talk you’ve been calling your mother “Mommy” – or “Mom,” if you decided to be cool really young. When you want to get her attention, “Mom” jumps out of your mouth without so much as a thought. Not even a split second. It’s just there. It’s the word you associate with her.
Now comes the fun part. This year in school you’re in your mom’s class. She’s a teacher, and this year she’ll be your teacher (for the sake of argument it’s a small school; one teacher per grade). Along with all the weirdness and embarrassment this brings, you’re going to have to call her Mrs. [insert your last name here] in class.
The first several weeks of school are incredibly frustrating, because this scenario keeps repeating itself over and over: you need to say something to your mom, but instead of saying, “Mrs. Iylnh, can you —?” you automatically blurt out, “Mom, can —?” and then catch and correct yourself. The first week the word “Mom” springs out without any hesitation, and you only realize after a few seconds, and maybe a glare from your mother, that you’ve said the wrong word. The second week you slip up less frequently but somehow you feel more confused. A split second before you hail your mom, your brain holds back your lips, as you remember that “Mom” isn’t the right word to use. There’s another word. What is it? Why would you call your mom anything else but that? What is it, though? You hesitate, and if anyone was looking at your face, they would see the slight furrow in your brows and the blank look in your eyes. What feels like at least a few seconds later – who knows if it was just miliseconds or much longer – the muddle clears. Oh, right! “Hey Mrs. Iylnh —”

A battle that I can only describe with the story above has been playing out in my brain ever since I returned from studying abroad in Freiburg last summer, a whole year ago now. I have some serious second language confusion: that is, a lot of transfer from one of my second languages (German) to my other second language (Spanish). It’s never the actual word “Mom,” but it’s ones that feel just as familiar in the language I’m speaking. Up until today and to my great consternation, I accidentally threw German words into my Spanish sentences or, worse yet, was unable to complete my sentences because the word that I once knew perfectly well in Spanish would only come to mind in German. What are called “functional words,” like conjunctions and prepositions, were/are particularly prone to this problem, as well as filler words like “so” and exclamations like “really!?” (well, their equivalents in German, that is). Well, today I finally experienced the opposite.
I went to the gym (where I got to use my new Vivobarefoot tennis shoes! – I get a bit excited about trying new kinds of zero-drop shoes) and briefly met a German girl. She spoke to me immediately in German, because she’d heard me speaking Spanish when I’d accidentally throw in that German word for “so.” I attempted to respond in German without freaking her out with my rabid, pure joy at having the chance to switch from my still rusty and halting Spanish back to oh-so-comfortable German. And then a Spanish word jumped into my sentence! I saw it there in my mind just before it happened; it was a strangely vivid and visual experience. The Spanish word hovered in the twilight in bold, prepared to march forth, but in the background was the muted, hazy form of the equivalent word in German. Then it was over. She laughed, and I threw up my hands in exasperation as I explained how I constantly mix the two languages. She kindly sympathized. I shut my mouth.

Anyway, I’m glad my Spanish is slowly returning enough for it to start bullying my German. And the blessing it is to even have this problem is not lost on me. But it’s high time I make both Spanish and German friends, because I think the only way to solve the problem is by speaking both languages on a daily basis. And speaking English all the time, as I’ve been doing with my American classmates, isn’t going to help a thing.

After my Panorama of Spanish Literature class, I paid a visit to one of the abundant bulk candy stores that appear around every corner here. No one ever mentions Spain as being a prime place to find candy, but, well I guess it is. They’re stocked with gummy, chewy, and marshmallowy candies of (literally) scores of different shapes, flavors, and sizes. The pepper-shaped one I tried was shockingly spicy – an odd sensation!

spicy candy

Highlighter for scale.

el poder hablar español | the power of speaking Spanish

Escribí una composición para una clase de español. Tuve que explicar como el poder hablar español afecta mi vida. De verdad siento un poco de orgullo de ella, pues voy a compartirla con ustedes:

El poder español

El poder hablar español afecta mi vida de varias maneras. Lo que observo mayormente es que la habilidad de hablar español me da un sentido de seguridad cuando viajo a otros países, especialmente, por supuesto, donde se habla el español. No tengo miedo de perderme en una ciudad y no poder pedir ayuda. También cuando viajo, aumenta la posibilidad de comunicarme con cualquier persona. Si no podemos hablar en inglés, puedo tratar de hacerlo en español. Es otra red de seguridad para mis viajes. Además, siento una especie de orgullo de ser alguien que puede romper el estereotipo del estadounidense que solamente habla inglés y no intenta comunicarse con los demás en otros idiomas. Pero al mismo tiempo me da un poco de miedo hablar en español en público. No es un idioma con el que me siento cómoda. Me siento cohibida por la tosquedad de mi pronunciación, la lentitud de mi dicción y la deficiencia de mi vocabulario.

Aunque soy consciente de mis inhibiciones, el poder hablar español a veces me da esperanza, porque yo sé que he aprendido el español de la nada. Me acuerdo de lo tiempo en que no hablaba español, y esto me inspira porque aunque el proceso ha tardado muchos años, antes no podía hablar y ahora puedo. Veo el progreso, y puedo anticiparlo en mi aprendizaje del alemán y otros idiomas que aprenderé en el futuro. Pero el poder hablar el español tal como puedo también me muestra cuánto no puedo hablarlo, cuanto no sé, cuanto tengo que aprender todavía. Al saber la pequeña parte del idioma que sé, me doy cuenta de todo lo que no sé. No puedo conversar de todo. Cuando intento explicar mis opiniones o mis pensamientos – todo lo que hace que yo sea como soy – no las puedo decir en español.

Pero, a pesar de que en español no puedo expresar mis sentimientos profundos, a veces es como una lengua privada para mí misma. Ninguna otra persona de mi familia inmediata puede comprender el español. Pues, a veces me murmuro a mí misma pequeñas cosas o frases como si el español fuera un idioma ficticio como los que intentaba inventar cuando era niña. Pero ahora es real. A veces me imagino que tengo una superpotencia – que puedo entender algo que la mayoría de mis amigos y mi familia no puede. Es como un boleto a otro mundo, a veces a un mundo privado aparte de los demás. Por ejemplo, mis tías latinoamericanas les hablan a mis primos en español cuando quieren regañarlos o decirles algo que quieren que el resto de la familia no oiga. Con mi conocimiento del español, entro por casualidad en sus conversaciones privadas. También, mi superpotencia me permite ayudar en las conversaciones y comunicaciones entre grupos que normalmente no se interrelacionarían en mi comunidad. He traducido pequeños letreros para organizar un partido de fútbol en un vecindario cerca de mi iglesia donde viven muchas personas hispanohablantes. Siento un poco de orgullo por tener la habilidad de contribuir a una conexión entre vecinos para construir la amistad. Espero que el poder hablar español continúe ayudándome en el futuro.

For one of my Spanish classes I wrote a short paper about how being able to speak Spanish affects my life. To be quite honest, I was rather proud of this little paper. So, I’m sharing it with you guys. Maybe it’ll give you a glimpse into the strange world of being partially bilingual. The original was in Spanish, so if this translation sounds a bit awkward in places, that’s why.

The Power of Speaking Spanish

The ability to speak Spanish affects my life in various ways. What I notice most is that it gives me a sense of security when I travel to other countries, especially, of course, where Spanish is spoken. I’m not afraid of getting lost in a city and being unable to ask for help. Also, when I travel it increases the possibility that I will be able to communicate with anyone I come across  If the other person can’t speak English, I can try Spanish. It is a second safety net for my travels. Furthermore, I am a bit proud to be someone who can break the stereotype of the typical American who can only speak English and doesn’t try to communicate with other people in different languages  But at the same time, I’m a bit afraid to speak Spanish in public. It’s not a language with which I feel comfortable. I’m inhibited by the roughness of my pronunciation, the slowness of my diction, and the deficiency of my vocabulary.

Though I’m conscious of my inhibitions, the ability to speak Spanish gives me hope sometimes, because I know that I have learned Spanish from the beginning, from nothing, from zero. I can remember a time when I couldn’t speak Spanish at all, and this inspires me even – though the process has taken years and years – because before I couldn’t speak Spanish, and now I can. I see my progress, and I can anticipate it in my learning of German now and other languages I’ll learn in the future. But being able to speak Spanish as I can now also shows me how much I can’t speak it – how much I don’t know; how much I have still to learn. Knowing the little portion of the language that I do, makes me notice how much I don’t know. I can’t talk about everything I want to in Spanish. When I try to explain my opinions or my thoughts – everything that makes me who I am – I can’t put them into words in Spanish.

However, even though I can’t express my most complicated thoughts, Spanish is like a private language for me sometimes. No one else in my immediate family can really understand it. So, sometimes I murmur little phrases to myself in Spanish, as if it was a made-up language, like those my brother and I invented when we were younger. But now it is for real. Sometimes I imagine that I have a superpower – I can understand something that the better part of my family and friends can’t. It’s like a ticket to another world, sometimes to the private world of other people. For example, my Latin-American aunts sometimes talk to my cousins in Spanish when they want to chide them or tell them something they don’t want everyone to hear. With my knowledge of Spanish  I end up accidentally overhearing and understanding their conversations. Also, my superpower allows me to aid in conversation and communication between groups of people that normally wouldn’t interact in my local community. I had the opportunity to translate a little flyer to organize a soccer game in a neighborhood near my church where lots of Spanish-speaking people live. I felt a bit proud to be able to contribute to a connection between neighbors for the purpose of building friendship. I hope that in the future Spanish will continue to be useful to me as it has been so far.

what if I blogged in Spanish?

Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 10.30.53 AM

I’ve had the thought bouncing around in the back of my mind for a while: What if I blogged in Spanish?

How would that change things? Would I every post include both a Spanish and English translation? That could both be cumbersome to read and time-consuming to write. Would I write one post in Spanish and the next in English?

Would I offer translations for only the recipe portion of my posts?

How would I deal with the inaccuracies that, I am certain, riddle my writing in Spanish?

Could I establish a Spanish-speaking reader base? Is there even a readership out there that would be interested in a verbose English-Spanish food blog?

Is it possible to create dual posts: ones that are connected to each other but somehow separate? Something that could be viewed in Spanish or English with the click of a button?

Is this even feasible?

You see, I have this other language in there – in my mind. During the vast majority of my day it lies dormant, waiting to jump into action. It never just leaps. So much English inertia is at work upon the proverbial box of Spanish in my brain that it must be acted upon by an outside force to get it moving. Usually, that force comes under the guise of a Spanish class. Often, though, when the Spanish class force shoves my mental box of Spanish out of storage and into my mental soup, it leaves the speaking portion behind. So, I sit in Spanish class absorbing information but somehow unable to produce quick, coherent Spanish of my own. Alas.

But it is still there, my Spanish. And gradually it is infiltrating my mental language. Words come to mind. Phrases. Sentences, even. Shouldn’t I give it a proper home, then? A place to express itself?

Would blogging help my vocabulary?

Would my readers – if they appeared – correct my Spanish? Would anyone be interested? Or just annoyed?

These are questions to which I do not have answers. Does anyone out there have experience with this?

My llamo Claire y hablo español. My name is Claire, and I speak English.

Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 12.00.47 AM


comparative progress

I like learning Spanish. It is fun. But, sometimes it feels like swimming in an ocean of molasses past a featureless shoreline. It is difficult to gauge my progress as I flounder my way towards fluency. Sure, I can remind myself of all the verb tenses and gramatical structures with which I have grappled and over which I have occasionally triumphed. Of course I can delight in the infrequent opportunity to supply a noun or a conjugated verb to someone just beginning to assemble to puzzle of the Spanish language. But, when I open my mouth and words I know I should remember refuse to come and all the verbs that fall into neat, properly conjugated categories in my mind suddenly swap endings and combine themselves with the wrong pronouns, it is hard to see anything but my elementary mistakes. That is why it is good to be in Guatemala again.

The last time I was here was slightly less than three years ago, the summer I was 15. I came for two weeks to attend Spanish school, something I had been dreaming of doing since I was eight, maybe even younger. I enjoyed those two weeks and learned a lot. In fact, that was the first time I learned how to use and formulate gerunds (the verb to be + verb ending in -ing in English) in Spanish. At some point during those two weeks, I wanted to tell one of my cousin Kain’s friends that Kain was lying. But, of course, I could not remember how. I had to inquire of my other cousin, Holly. I have no idea why that instance has stuck in my mind, but it gives me hope. I would never have to ask that now. In comparison with that summer three years ago, my Spanish has improved exponentially. Having this place, this specific location in both time and space to pinpoint in my mind is quite helpful. Other aspects of my life have changed, but I am still learning Spanish. I can recall my ability then and compare it to where I am now.

And I can see it; I can see progress! And boy does it feel good!

southward again

I believe I may have neglected to mention that I am going to Guatemala. Well, I am, and now you know.

Grandma and Grandpa L., with whom I have been living these past several weeks, had already planned a trip to the fine Central American country to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins, who live there. When it became apparent that my jobternship would extend up until their departure date, they invited me along. I happily accepted the proposal, but, naturally, had to come up with some sort of constructive activity in which to participate in order to convince my dear parental units that I would not be without employment during our 10 days there. Uncle Tom, eternal spring of volunteer and travel ideas for tourists like myself that he is, promptly discovered and secured a spot for me to help serve – and perhaps prepare! – daily lunch at a senior center. Although the place is run by expats, I shall doggedly refuse to relinquish my rather unrealistic hope that the only language spoken there will be Spanish.

We begin our treck tomorrow after lunch, when we will start leisurely driving to San Francisco. After a scheduled stop at IKEA for furniture perusal and bit of window shopping nearby, we will spend the night in the city and fly out Wednesday morning at a reasonable hour. I am looking forward to speaking some Spanish again and seeing some of my bilingual extended family. Have I ever mentioned that all of my cousins – on both sides of my family – are bilingual? They are. (Of course, I do only have five first cousins.) The boys and I are the odd monolinguals out, a tragic fact I am attempting to remedy at least on my own part.