Another 'como se dice' 'Alabamian to Mexican housekeeper' translation question


I’ve used this before for English:Spanish translations, so please assist again. I need to tell my housekeeper two things tomorrow:

1- I have misplaced my gold ring. If you come across it, please leave it on the dining table.

2- Mardi had surgery this week and has stitches. The cone is so that he does not pull at his stitches. Ollie is in the crate so that he will not play rough with Mardi and damage the stitches. Please don’t let him out even if he whines and begs (which he will).

  • In case you’re wondering or in case it makes a difference, I have no suspicion whatever that she took the ring; she wasn’t even here. I’ve just misplaced it in or behind something in the last couple of days, so I’d like to get this point across so there’s no misunderstanding that I’m accusing her.
    **Mardi and Ollie are my dogs; she knows their names. Kennel/crate/cage- any one of these will do; likewise ‘fight with’, ‘play rough with’, ‘jump on’- any one will do so long as it’s an activity that will tear stitches.

(If you’re wondering why I don’t use Babelfish, I stopped when I tried to tell her that the master bedroom belonged to my dead mother and I’m putting her stuff into boxes and it came out closer to ‘my dead mother is in her bedroom upstairs and I’m putting her into boxes’.)

Muchas gracias,


“Cómo se dice”

1- I have misplaced my gold ring. If you come across it, please leave it on the dining table.
Tengo un anillo de oro que no encuentro. Si lo ve, favor de dejarlo en la mesa del comedor.
(I’ve got a gold ring I can’t find. If you see it, please leave it on the dining-room table)
Another version:
No sé dónde puse mi anillo de oro. Si lo ve, favor de dejarlo en la mesa del comedor.
(I don’t know where did I put my gold ring.)

2- Mardi had surgery this week and has stitches. The cone is so that he does not pull at his stitches. Ollie is in the crate so that he will not play rough with Mardi and damage the stitches. Please don’t let him out even if he whines and begs (which he will).

Mardi lleva el cono porque le han operado y lleva puntos, es para que no se los rasque. Ollie está en la caja para que no le quite los puntos a Mardi jugando. Por favor no le deje salir por mucho que se queje.
(Mardi wears that cone because he’s had surgery and has stitches, it will keep him from scratching them off. Ollie is in the crate so he won’t pull off Mardi’s stitches playing. Please don’t let him out no matter how much he whines. — The pronouns are all neutral, so it works if Mardi is female too)

Thank you so much. I have one other and it’s a bit weird so let me explain the context since it’s a sentence you’re not likely to have to say often, let alone translate:

My dog (Mardi) bleeds a little bit during the day because of his surgery. I’ve spoken to the vet and he says this is normal so long as it’s just a little bit- a drop or two every so often- it’s only worrisome if it’s more than a few drops on the floor or on his belly/backside and more like an open cut or wound. Also, I value Maria (the housekeeper) way too much to ask her to do anything she’s uncomfortable with, so… how would you recommend saying something like this:

“Don’t worry if Mardi bleeds a little bit, it is normal but if he bleeds more than a little, please call me at work. If you do not want to clean up the blood, that’s fine and I understand completely- I’ll get it up when I get home.”*

And knowing Maria I may should add

Please don’t try to bathe or clean Mardi”. (She’s extremely proactive and likes dogs, but he’s not supposed to be bathed except maybe a dab with a sponge for the next few days.)

Puede que Mardi sangre un poquito; si es poco es normal, pero si es mucho favor de avisarme al trabajo. No hace falta que limpie la sangre, ya lo haré yo.
(Mardi may bleed a little bit, if it’s not much it’s normal but please call me to work if it’s a lot. You don’t have to clean up the blood, I’ll do it.)

Por favor no bañe o lave a Mardi, órdenes del médico. (Please don’t bathe or wash Mardi, doctor’s orders).

Thank you very much, Nava.

Muchas de nadas, a mandar.

(For anybody paying attention, that’s broken Spanish for “you’re welcome; I remain at your service” and I broke it on purpose)

Fixed spelling in thread title.

General Questions Moderator

in general, I think you could do fairly sophisticated communication using an English-Spanish translator (which is not, most likely, a rare or expensive beast nowadays) over Skype. E.g. like this - you type what you want to say, the translator replies in the chat with Spanish translation, and the non-English speaking person responds by voice into the microphone so that the translator can hear and communicate to you, probably also by typing. If the interviewee can type himself, it’s even easier.

I guess this would all work for literate people, although reputedly some Mexican immigrants in America are not literate even in Spanish.

code grey, I’m curious: have you ever tried to set up that kind of thing? I don’t mean have someone set it up for you, but actually go and find it.

Maria carries a pocket translator but it doesn’t have voice, just screen.
I’ve tried communicating with her through Babelfish (standing at the laptop) when I had something complex to say, but I know how it translates things into English and would expect that it’s the same with Spanish. For example, one of the few Spanish questions I remember from Spanish class a thousands years ago is ¿Cuantos años tienes tu?", which in English would be phrased “How old are you?”, but Babelfish translates it more exactly- “Whichever years you have your?”, which if you asked the average English speaker on the street they’d either look at you blankly or say “Let me guess… Babelfish?”, so I can only imagine that my questions or comments must come out weird.

Fantastic person though, and I suspect extremely intelligent. Definitely very proactive: she came earlier than I was expecting today and so I was asleep when she arrived (I work nights so I sleep late) and by the time I got downstairs to open the back door she’d taken a hammer and nails and fixed a loose board on my back gate!

In 2000-2001 I worked for an agency that serviced Haitian migrant workers in south Georgia. It’s extremely difficult to get translators. Creole is a unique language and has a lot of nuance: French basis but with African, English, Spanish and other bits thrown in and a conjugation (or lack of) that can lead into the swamps very quickly. We only had one really reliable Haitian:English translator (a girl of about 16 whose parents were Haitian but who had grown up in Atlanta) and a pair of former missionaries who- no exaggeration- would translate “Would you like to be examined for eyeglasses?” in a five minute spiel in which you could hear them mentioning Jesus and salvation (true story- they were requested to please not proselytize but chose to quit rather than not).

They’d get French professors from a nearby highschool and junior college to translate but you can be as fluent in French as André Gide and it’s not going to help you much more than speaking pidgin English. They even tried a guy who grew up in an Alabama Cajun community the dialects were about as close as German and Swahili. There were also a couple of Spanish speakers who could translate but then we had to have an English:Spanish translator speak to the Spanish:Haitian Creole translator. (It reminded me of the accounts of early Euro explorers and settlers talking through a line of translators, where they’d ask things like “Where are there more pearls like this?” and get an answer back like “When it storms sometimes the moon is brighter after”.

The best luck they had was with a portable CD player with a pre-recorded CD of questions into Creole: (e.g. Track 15: “Are you on any medications?” Track 21: “Have you ever had a heart attack?” Track 30: “Do you need an eye exam?”) The problem of course came when the responses required more than yes or no response.

Haitians have a huge problem with malignant hypertension (several of them- seemingly in good health- had systolic rates of close to 200 or in a couple of cases above) and a much higher than usual HIV rate and diabetes, and since many are in the country illegally or ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ (expired visas, assumed identities) they were understandably mistrustful (though to my knowledge the agency I worked for really did have a don’t ask/don’t tell policy concerning that) and thus would avoid any answers that may seem to get them in trouble or singled out, so you could ask how much they smoked when you’d see the pack of cigarettes in their pocket and had earlier seen them lit up and get back “No smoke, Christian”. (Is Christian your brand name?) By the end of the two weeks I was there we’d gotten pretty good at communicating through the few words we knew, the CD, informal sign language, and- I kid you not- action figures (pointing to a part of the body, or holding it up with others to indicate family unit or wife, etc.).

Sampiro, a suggestion: use Google language tools instead. It can translate individual sentences as well as webpages and IME it works better than Babelfish. The last two exercises in my Computer-Assisted Translation class involved comparing those two and Google didn’t so much beat the crap out of the Fishie as just sit on it and wait for it to stop moving. It’s far from perfect, specially for the more exotic language pairs, but it has a ton more language pairs and the way it works means it improves more the more people use it.

I indeed noted that google languages seemed to do a better job than babelfish.

Howerver : in what way does it work, and why does it improve when people use it?
(however I still do think than no automatic translator should be used when you want to convey specific informations. They’re good to get the general gist of things (for example translating an article), but as soon as you want to be sure that something precise will be understood, being the stitches of the cat or the requirements for your hotel room, the risk is too high that the message will be misunderstood or even occasionnally appear to mean exactly the contrary of what you nexpected)

Babelfish uses SYSTRAN technology. It’s “rules-based,” meaning that someone has tried to program things like “how to conjugate verbs” and “how to match gender and number.” It will never, can never, be able to traduce properly unusual expressions, metaphors… it also has some strange bugs like getting flumoxed by apostrophes. To create a new language pair, they need to define and program the “translation rules” for that language pair, they need new translation algorithms.

Google is corpus-based; it uses a database of translations. It uses the same algorithm for all language pairs, the differences in how well it does are due to differences in database size and quality. If you hover over a sentence translated by Google, you can “provide a better translation” to be added to the database; that’s how it improves (yeah, Google uses voluntary work). It will not translate poetry or metaphors well the first few times, but if its database contains a given metaphor and its translation, it will provide that. That translation can be provided by those volunteers, by Google’s employees, or by people writing webpages containing “Bob Dylan’s songs translated to Spanish.”

One of the exercises we did was “look for a text in a language you don’t understand which contains a word in your language, use both Babelfish and Google to translate it, compare. Then do it with a language pair you’re familiar with.” I got the wikipedia pages for José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (president of the Spanish government) in Finnish, Greek and English.

  • Google was able to translate all to Spanish (Catalan and Galego are also in the list of possible languages, Basque isn’t… yet). Babelfish was able to translate the Greek to English and the English to Spanish.
  • Google made some mistakes with gender in sentences where the original language used a neutral pronoun or no pronoun in reference to a person named in the previous sentence. Names were translated properly. Grammar was generally correct (but not always optimal). Apostrophes weren’t a problem. My Hungarian classmate said the Hungarian version blew goats.
  • Babelfish was all over the place with grammar. Genders just go haywire. The translation from Greek turns Zapatero’s name into [Chose] [Loyis] [Rodrigketh] [Thapatero]. Apostrophes make it dizzy, both contractions and genitives.

In other exercises, Google translated imperatives into the imperative; Babelfish, into the infinitive. Euh? Ok, so “no smoking” is “prohibido fumar” (“it is forbidden to smoke”), but someone took that rule too far.

I agree that the best bet is a human translator, but it can be helpful for things like making sure you really got the page you wanted before sending it to the translator.


if I were to have a Spanish speaking housekeeper (a big if :slight_smile: ), I would not have needed such a setup because I am reasonably fluent in Spanish. Nevertheless, if I really wanted to set such things up, why not? “The little engine that could” and all that…

Yeah, yeah, but have you tried?

From your non-answer, my guess is that you haven’t.