First translation milestone

Death paperback

The logistics of it, or pain-in-the-butt hours

I started documenting the self-translation of my novel Death Comes in through the Kitchen, a culinary mystery set in Cuba, on December 2.The original document, in English, has 368 pages. It will end up having around 400 in Spanish. As all English/ Spanish translators know, the Spanish document is inevitable longer. We use more words (and gestures and louder tones of voice) than English speakers.

Today I am celebrating the first translation milestone. I just finished the first one hundred pages in the English manuscript. I am pleased with the process and hoping to finish the first draft by late January. This is going to be my Christmas vacation. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because, despite what I’m going to share in a minute, the process has been fun.

A friend asked me a few days ago if I used Google Translate to save time, a question that made me google-giggle. I have used it—infrequently in the past—for very simple, straightforward documents in languages I don’t read fluently, like French and Italian. But I don’t trust it.

My first encounter with automatic translation fiascos happened when I was working for a translation company in San Diego, back in 1998. Google Translate didn’t exist then but there were several automatic translation software products intended to replace…well, us. It didn’t work, at least not very well. A marketing firm had used some such product to translate the phrase “If I don’t like my purchase, am I stuck with it?” to Spanish, and what came out was “Si no me gusta mi compra, ¿me pegan con ella?” that means “If I don’t like my purchase, will I be hit with it?” My favorite, though, was an ad for a toy that began: “When the kids misbehave, you can entertain them with this…”. The Spanish version read “Cuando los cabritos se desmanden…” (when the little goats act out…).


Though Google Translate “knows” better (I just passed the above sentences through it and got a fairly decent result, with no cabritos) I still don’t like it. Among other undesirable features, it doesn’t discern between the use of the pretérito and the imperfecto—the two Spanish past tenses in the indicative mood. (I find out easily if my Spanish students have used Google Translate in their assignments when the two tenses are used as if they were interchangeable. Plus perfect spelling combined with long, infrequently used words, the kind we call “Sunday words” in Spanish. But Google Translate and language learning will be the subject of another post.)

So I am translating Death Comes in through the Kitchen the old-fashioned way, word by word and paragraph by paragraph. Myself. Which has caused some serious butt and neck pain in the last few days.

First I thought of using two monitors. I even went and bought a second monitor but haven’t been able to install it because my computer lacks an HDMI, my husband has informed me. I will have to buy a new computer with that kind of connector to make it work. Will it be worthwhile? I am not sure.

In the meantime, I tried opening the English document in my iPad and placing it next to my monitor as shown below.


The problem is that the repetitive movement needed to scroll down the iPad left me with a horrible pain in the right side of my neck and in my butt. Ay. And ouch.

Then I printed the English pages and put them next to the computer. It still requires that I turned my head to one side and move the pages out of the way as I write. Still, not the most comfortable or time-saving solution.

So now I am just using one Word document, translating a few lines each time, deleting the English lines and pasting the Spanish version, once a chapter is done, into a different document.

I am wondering if it will make sense to invest in a new computer so I can switch between the two monitors with one click of the mouse. It will be quite an expense, and perhaps unnecessary, considering that my present computer works well, and for something I won’t be doing regularly.

If I were to translate professionally, it would be a different story. But after this experience, I will translate only my own books, if needed.  I am not even halfway through the manuscript and already feel a new respect and admiration for literary translators.

Today, to celebrate the one-hundred-page milestone, I am flying to Albuquerque to go to the St. James Tearoom with some very dear friends. Chao.

To be continued….

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