Bailando con Traducción

Although initially I was a bit embarrassed to admit it, over the last six months or so one of my favourite songs has been 'Bailando' by Enrique Iglesias and Gente de Zona, a Cuban reggaeton group. 

What I didn't realise is that I'm not alone. Apparently EVERYONE is enjoying a bit of Enrique right now. In fact, this Summer it peaked at no. 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100, no. 52 on Australia's ARIA Charts and no. 13 on the Canadian Hot 100 (as well as number 1 in a number of non-English speaking countries). Given it can pretty much be counted on one hand the number of times that a non-English song has charted in English-speaking countries over the last ... well, pretty much ever, it's an amazing effort.

Even more incredibly, not only has the original Spanish version of 'Bailando' had over 482 million views on, but an English version featuring Sean Paul has had 61.4 million views, a Brazilian Portuguese version featuring Luan Santana 13.6 million views, and a Portugal Portuguese version featuring Mickael Carreira has racked up 8.4 million views.

Like Shakira, Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias is no stranger to song translation, having released two bilingual albums and a number of singles with both Spanish and English versions such as 2001's 'Hero' and 'Heroe'. However, no-one can deny that something particularly special has occurred with this latest and most successful offering. 

Like all translations and transcreations, each version of this song is somewhat different. No doubt this is partly to appeal to the various target audiences, who may be more or less receptive to certain things. For example, in both the Portuguese versions of the song, Iglesias' part remains unchanged, in its original Spanish version. Instead, Gente de Zona's parts have been altered to allow enough space for the Portuguese-singing guest artists. On the other hand, the English version of the song has been entirely translated into English and 'Spanglish', with the chorus stating: 

'I wanna be contigo
And live contigo, and dance contigo
Para have contigo
Una noche loca
Ay besar tu boca'

Undoubtedly, the song was originally translated for cultural reasons overlaid with financial reasons; by appealing to an English and Portuguese-speaking public in their own language, Iglesias and his team hoped to appeal to a larger audience than they felt was possible with solely a Spanish version of the song. Even the decision to have two different Portuguese versions of the song is incredibly calculated to maximise impact with the culturally and linguisticaly-different Portuguese and Brazilian target audiences.

Gary Trust from recently asked Charlie Walk, executive VP of Republic Records, what he felt was the key to Bailando's success in English:

Ultimately, Walk feels that the Spanglish version of “Bailando” proved that it’s a song that translates, while still keeping the “essence of its DNA. He brilliantly, when we were breaking it at Latin, came up with the Spanglish version. It didn’t hurt his core at Latin, while Sean Paul added another voice familiar at pop.

”In all, it’s a perfect storm. Other markets, including in the Midwest, are now coming on-board. All signs point to people liking it; it doesn’t matter where you are. I call it a tri-coastal hit: from New York to L.A. to Miami, where it started.

”It’s Enrique at his core – it just sounds like him. He went back to being who he is. That’s why it’s a hit.”

Ultimately, the original Spanish version has been the most successful globally, both within and outside Spanish-speaking nations, but it is clear that the various translated versions have been a marketing success.

As Walk pointed out, Iglesias has been successful through his ability to stay true both to the original and to his personal brand. Unfortunately I was not able to find the names of the English and Portuguese translators involved in this project, but in my view they have achieved the ultimate translation goal: to recreate a work so that it will have the same impact on the target audience as the original had on its target audience. The type of people who Iglesias is appealing to through these songs may differ in the various languages (the fact that he has not one but two portuguese versions of the song clearly demonstrates that he is catering to different audiences), but he has still achieved the same outcome: selling records. All in all, it's a true translation success story!


"We are our choices"

This morning when I woke up, two lively threads of conversation caught my eye on one of the fora that I haunt. The former was talking about interesting specialisations (including classical music, trains, veganism and highly specialised medical topics) and the latter about whether it is okay to turn down a translation because one feels ethically opposed to it (e.g. tobacco advertising or weapons trade translations). 

Although on the surface these seem to be quite different from each other, I believe that in the end they boil down to the same topic: personal choice. As freelance translators, we're very lucky to be able to manage our own business, unlike our in-house colleagues who may sometimes be obliged to translate a text that they aren't particularly thrilled with. For some, this means accepting all work for financial reasons, which is perfectly acceptable. Others choose to turn down topics which grate with their moral compass, or to only accept controversial texts provided they will not be misused.

Similarly, those who choose a very specialised specialisation must be doing so because of some deep-seated personal or financial interest in the topic in question. So why is it that we see taking on a specialisation as being something separate to deciding whether or not to translate a text on moral grounds?

As Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out, "We are our choices", a phrase which is particularly apt when it comes to a one-man show such as a freelance translation business. At the end of the day we all need to be able to live with our choices, even if they are made for business reasons.

Translation Love Actually Is ... All Around!

A little over a month ago, I finally completed my masters degree in translation studies and couldn't wait to get started as a freelance translator. Unfortunately, even though I'm good at translation, organised and have had some amazing internship opportunities throughout my studies (including a 6-month full-time position as an in-house translator for a research lab where I was trusted with an amazing amount of autonomy for an intern), I am still very much a liberal arts student at heart. I have a pretty sound knowledge of the translation industry at large, but when it comes to marketing and business development, I'm stumbling around blind. The realisation that a freelance translation business is above all else a BUSINESS was a bit of a shock to the system if I'm being perfectly honest.

To compensate for my lack of confidence in these areas, I've been hitting the internet pretty hard and have discovered a whole new community of translators. One of my biggest worries starting out as a freelancer was the sense of isolation that working from home can bring about. However, after several weeks of following various facebook groups, blogs and trawling through okay, I'm still a bit worried about becoming a crazy shut-in. But I no longer feel quite so alone. I have a wealth of internet colleagues, many of whom are incredibly generous with their knowledge. For example, right now I'm reading a great sunshiney little e-book called 'The Bright Side of Freelance Translation' by Nicole Y. Adams and Andrew Morris.

I have to say, after the many posts I've come across about the perils of various agencies not paying or their translators enduring awful working conditions, coming across a little gem like this is incredibly refreshing. I mean, I have found all of the tips and warnings that came out of those other posts and comments to be really helpful in directing my searches and constructing a business plan, but it can be a bit disheartening at times as well.

Aside from this book, I've been stalking a number of translators on facebook and through their blogs who seem to really love their jobs and I'm pretty impressed with how they've made translation fit around their lives and interests. But even more so, I'm really impressed with how so many of them share their knowledge and enthusiasm with so many beginning and experienced translators around the world.

Even though I'm still somewhat terrified about really starting out as a translator/copywriter, I think it's time for me to just get out there and start trying to sell myself. After all, the sooner I do, the sooner I can start spreading some translation love around myself.

.... I think I might keep doing some sunny translation reading on the side though!


Reflections on ...

Today was the last day of my six-month internship for a National Center for Scientific Research lab in Lyon, France. During my time there I translated about 25 academic articles, mostly on the history of economic thought and sociology.

Although there were moments that I wanted to cry or throw my laptop out the window while trying to translate articles on the epistemology of sociological fieldwork research or neurolaw (yes, neurolaw. I didn't realise it existed before either), on the whole it was an incredibly positive experience.

A few things I learnt about translation/myself over the past six months:

  • Translation is super repetitive.
    • I use a program called Trados, which breaks texts down into manageable chunks (about a sentence long), so I basically write out one sentence, hit Enter and move on to the next. My process is a lot more well-thought out than that, but it basically boils down to me doing that for 6-8 hours.
  • Dance music goes perfectly with translation.
    • I never thought I'd admit it, but I now love DJs. Something about the repetitive beat of an hour-long Diplo or The White Panda mix is just perfect for the continual rhythm of translation. It keeps me focused and on task.
  • Dance music does not go well with proofreading.
    • Proofreading is another issue entirely. My first drafts of work are always awful, written in a French-sounding bastardised form of English riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Rewriting in pedantically proper English while listening to anything that even remotely has a beat is an absolutely terrible idea and never ends well.
  • New projects are always exciting.
    • As nerdy as it sounds, creating a new project folder and opening it up is always exciting. I never know what I will find (ok, I assume it will be something to do with academics, but it could be economics, political sciences, gender studies...). That being said, with academic texts there's always the very real possibility that I will understand nothing on my first reading of the text anyway, so that excitement can be fleeting.
  • Translation can be a huge responsibility.
    • Authors of academic articles may have spent months or even years researching what is written down as a 10,000 word article. In some cases it is a summation of their life's work. As such, authors are understandably anxious that their work is translated as well as possible. Essentially, when I translate I am acting as the English mouthpiece for each author. My words will be quoted as theirs so it's incredibly important that I write what they wanted to say whilst respecting the norms of English scientific writing. Throughout my internship I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with the authors of every text I translated and discuss the technical and linguistic aspects of their texts. This really brought home their attachment to their texts and the fact that they were trusting me to act in their stead.

At the end of the day, I have realised that I am just passionate about languages. I love that every day, translating means that I am solving linguistic problems, making decisions and learning about new things. While I'm not sure if I will always be a full-time translator, I cannot imagine a career which doesn't incorporate it. I will always be very grateful to the lab for allowing me so much autonomy as a student translator and for trusting me with such difficult texts. I have no doubt that this has made me into a better translator; a professional translator.

Language = Personality?

It's hardly surprising that people who speak different languages tend to have slightly different personalities; after all, so much of culture is transferred through the way we communicate. If something is important in a particular cultural context then they need to have a way of talking about it.

A good example of this phenomenon is the concept of /snow/. In English, there are various words to talk about snow, such as sleet (slushy snow), hail (icy rain), powdery snow etc. However, for English-speaking cultures snow is not a particularly important concept that its various forms warrant the creation of a huge variety of ways to talk about it. On the other hand, groups of people who live above the arctic circle have an enormous number of words used to describe what English speakers would all lump into the same category. According to a study by Ole Henrik Magga that published in the International Social Science Journal in 2006, the Saami people that live in northern parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway have around 180 different words to describe snow. Similarly, the addition of various descriptive suffixes or endings to word roots mean that the Inuit language has an almost unlimited number of ways to describe snow.

But really, how much does our maternal language influence the way we view the world? Do languages which are 'global' such as English or Spanish somehow link together all of their speakers to a shared cultural identity, despite their geographical differences? 

The following video explores this idea in terms of money: