This is my first blog post in a new series I am doing called “Translator Tips.” These posts are written for beginning or aspiring Spanish translators. I am not sponsored by or affiliated with any of the companies mentioned. All opinions are my own.
If you are just starting out as a Spanish translator, you without a doubt have come across many electronic resources. The wide selection of language resources available on the Internet can be overwhelming at times. How do you know which one to choose to look up a word you don’t know?
Here are my top five indispensable electronic resources for Spanish translators that I use daily for Latin American Spanish subtitle translation.
Linguee was a huge game-changer for me as a translation student. Unlike Google Translate or Word Reference, Linguee displays a parallel corpus showing the word you're searching for in context in both source and target languages side-by-side. It is great for seeing how different words can be used differently in different fields or situations. DeepL is Linguee’s machine translation engine, comparable to Google Translate.
The reason I love Linguee so much is that being able to see new or unfamiliar Spanish words in context side-by-side with its English “equivalent” really helps me better conceptualize them. Words across languages almost never have an exact one-to-one correspondence, which Linguee clearly demonstrates.
The biggest complaint I have about Linguee is that they often will not have many results for a word I search. Sometimes, if I’m searching for an obscurer word or term, I don’t get any hits at all. This is somewhat surprising given the purportedly massive size of their corpora. Another drawback, as pointed out by Irene Dova¹, is that the bi-text (fancy term for side-by-side columns where a text is displayed immediately next to its “equivalent” in the other language) format fails to designate which is the source and which is the target.
DeepL, on the other hand, has in the past few years quickly become one of the world’s most sophisticated MT engines. It’s scary how good it has gotten. In fact, I use DeepL to translate most of my blog posts. I personally have found it to be much more accurate and reliable than Google Translate. While some translators view the exponential increase in MT quality as a threat to our profession, I believe we should look at it as an opportunity to increase productivity. However, in certain situations, MT engines should not be used.
Tureng (originally a Turkish/English bilingual corpora) is probably the obscurest resource on this list, but I have found it to be very helpful for Spanish translation. One of my professors introduced it to me. It is somewhat similar to Linguee. You type a word or term and it spits back multiple translation candidates displayed in bitext format. However, unique to Tureng is the “Categories” column, which tells which field(s) the proposed terms are used in or in what type of situation. Examples of categories are “Legal,” “Technical,” and even “Colloquial.” This can be very helpful in helping decide which term candidate is most appropriate for your particular text. I turn to Tureng when I can’t get any hits on Linguee.
Tureng’s biggest downside is that, unlike with Linguee, you cannot see suggested terms used in context. It is a great alternative, however, to sites like WordReference.com (although I do find their forum useful).
Now, you may be wondering what a monolingual dictionary is doing on this list. It turns out, bilingual dictionaries alone can only tell you so much about a given word. Looking a Spanish word up and reading its definition in Spanish clears any doubts you may have after having looked it up in a bilingual resource such as the two listed above. It is especially helpful for weeding out false cognates (those tough little boogers who look the same in two or more languages but actually have different meanings).
Using monolingual resources in conjunction with bilingual resources is a highly effective approach to Spanish translation. In fact, I’ve even heard of translators looking up unknown words in a monolingual dictionary of their source language before consulting bilingual resources.
The RAE is the leading authority on the Spanish language. Although originally based in Spain, today the organization has representation throughout all Spanish-speaking countries, including the U.S and the Philippines. Although many have criticized the institution in recent years for not recognizing many new gender neutral words, their dictionary (in its 23rd iteration as of this writing) indisputably remains the most important, most thorough Spanish dictionary worldwide. While it doesn’t include more colloquial or very region-specific terms, it should be your first stop for looking up unknown words.
Once again, I cannot overstate the importance of monolingual dictionaries. As language professionals, we need to be at the top of our game when it comes to writing in English. As much as we may hate to admit it, we’ve all been guilty of incorrectly using big words to sound smarter or more sophisticated. Merriam Webster is a great resource to consult when you aren’t 100% sure about an English word’s meaning. It is also a good place to go when you aren’t sure how to spell a word and your spellchecker is giving you false positives or is outdated.
Disclaimer: Merriam Webster is the leading authority on American English. Unlike Spanish, English has no be-all and end-all dictionary or language authority body. Thus, if you are translating into UK English, a better resource would be the Oxford English Dictionary, which is unfortunately subscription-based in its electronic form.
As a millennial, I cannot imagine a world without this ubiquitous search engine that has forever changed the way we go about finding information. The Internet is a treasure trove of content just waiting to be found. Google allows us to navigate this seemingly endless sea of text, graphics, pictures, and videos, especially if you know a few tricks to really leverage the technology to its full potential.
In the 2003 movie Bruce Almighty², God (played by Morgan Freeman) temporarily bestows his powers upon the protagonist, Bruce (played by Jim Carrey). However, with great power comes great responsibility. Bruce quickly becomes overwhelmed with voices in his head: prayers from people all over the world. So, he looks for a management system. First, he decides to put all the prayers in file cabinets, after which his entire office suddenly becomes cluttered with big, bulky file cabinets. Then, he decides to put them on post-it notes. All of a sudden, the office is literally completely covered in post-it notes. Finally, he solves his problem by storing the prayers using the chosen communication channel of the 21st century: email.
This scene is in many ways symbolic of the advent of the Internet and the Information Age in general. Long gone are the days of having to go to the library (or several libraries) to find whatever obscure information you're looking for. Now you can access millions of electronic resources at your fingertips, right from the comfort of home. Translators of yesteryears certainly did not have this luxury.
Imagine having all this information but no way to find what you were looking for. That’s where Google comes in. Google is like a massive, magical phonebook that you can conveniently search through using keywords. As translators, Google is particularly useful at identifying calques, that is, word-for-word translations that sound legit in the target language but aren’t actually part of the lexicon. This is accomplished by search operators, particularly quotation marks to search for exact strings. The "wildcard" asterisk feature also comes in handy, especially when combined with quotation marks.
Proz.com is a great resource for finding work or training courses. While it isn’t my first stop, the site features a user-created terminology database called KudoZ. Basically, a user posts a word or term they are having trouble translating into a certain language. This creates a thread. Other users can then post in the thread what they believe would be a good translation, based on region, context, etc. The ProZ community and the user who originally asked for help can then vote on what they think the best option is. The winner is awarded KudoZ points (which are just for bragging rights and look good on your profile) and the entry is saved so that anyone can reference later. While the KudoZ points are a good incentive, this is a great way to help colleagues.
While ProZ.com isn’t necessarily my first stop for looking up words I don’t know, it is a great last resort. When you’ve scoured the Internet using the resources above and haven’t had any luck, posting to KudoZ is a great way of consulting your fellow translators. I have used it multiple times and am glad I did.
1. Doval, Irene. “Pages : Design and Compilations of a Bilingual Parallel Corpus German Spanish Compilation of Bilingual Corpora for Linguistic Research.” Academia.edu, 1 Jan. 2016, https://bit.ly/3ombBLZ.
2. Shadyac, Tom, director. Bruce Almighty. 2003.