Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Note on Translating

Before I spoke Portuguese, my friends used to tell me that you cannot directly translate things from Portuguese to English, and I didn’t really understand why. Once I moved here I immediately noticed how movies and TV series were translated – with jokes being the main switcheroo. It started to make sense. Jokes are inherently a cultural thing, whether it be regional or international. Likewise, slang can vary with the dialect of a language.

Although I am writing to acquaint the international English-speaking community with the state of Goiás, and the Portuguese spoken here, I write from a distinctly American perspective. I will convert the kilometers to miles, as well as kilos to pounds. A good example of something that is not a direct translation, but the “American English equivalent” was found in the last article.

Grades are earned as a percentage of 100 in the U.S. – a 70% is passing, but a D. Here they use a scale of 1 – 10 (pretty easy to convert to a percentage of 100). This is where the phrase, “nota dez” comes from. Directly translated it means “10 note,” which further explained means “a grade of a perfect 10” …but for ease of translation in writing from an American standpoint I’ll say, “a score of 100%.”

In translating one language to another, sometimes it can take an entire paragraph to explain a one or two word saying. Here are a few words and phrases, and their meanings. It will be helpful, if you decide to visit, to have these phrases under your belt.

For you to see the difference in what it would be as a direct translation, versus the equivalent in American English, I will denote the direct translation in [brackets] and the equivalent in (parentheses).

  • Achado não é roubado.
    [Found is not stolen.] ----- (Finders keepers, losers weepers.)

  • É melhor prevenir do que remediar.
    [It's better to prevent than to remedy.] ----- (Better safe than sorry.)

  • Ninguém é de ferro.
    [No one is of iron.] ----- (All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.)

  • O barato sai caro.
    [Cheaper comes out expensive.] ----- (You get what you pay for.)

  • Querer é poder.
    [Want is power.] ----- (Where there's a will there's a way.)

Here’s a little known fact about Brazilian Portuguese: the verbs have 17 different conjugations! (I feel like 17 exclamations here would be overkill, but somehow appropriate.) According to wikipedia, a typical regular verb has over fifty different forms, expressing up to six different grammatical tenses and three moods. Be glad that Brazilian Portuguese has one less verb conjugation than European Portuguese!

Before you freak out, know that I am interested in helping you as much as possible. For ease in helping English speakers to get a small grasp on the language, I will use the infinitive form in Portuguese alongside whichever English tense reads appropriately in the sentence. Looking these verbs up on both English & Portuguese conjugation tables will be the easiest way for the reader to figure out which Portuguese tense is appropriate, while learning the main (infinitive form) verb. I've found that this seems to be the least painful method for native English speakers to wrap their head around the verbs. Truthfully, we can get away with only learning 3 or 4 forms of the verbs, but more on that later

Please note that some online conjugation tables list "you" as "tu" which is predominantly used in European Portuguese, and in Brazil: only a small region still uses this [antiquated] form. The correct and accepted way to say "you" in Brazilian Portuguese is "você" [pronounced: "v-oh-say"]. The plural form of you ("you all" - or y'all if you are from Texas) is "vocês" [pronounced: "v-oh-say-z"].

Fortunately, there are some phrases that remain the same in both languages. Here are a few...

  • É dando que se recebe.
    [Whoever gives, receives.] ----- (It is in giving that we receive.)

  • Isto é bom demais para ser verdade. (It’s too good to be true.)

  • Nem tudo que reluz é ouro. (Not all that glitters is gold.)

  • Melhor do que nada. (It's better than nothing.)

  • Não julgue pelas aparências. (Do not judge by appearances.)

  • Onde há fumaça, há fogo. (Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.)

  • Quem ri por último, ri melhor. (He who laughs last, laughs best.)

  • Uma coisa de cada vez. (One thing at a time.)

  • Ver para crer.
    [See to believe.] ----- (Seeing is believing.)

It's good to know that some things translate directly in any language!

For more Portuguese verb help, see the following links...

Portuguese : Verb Tense Usage

Flashcards for Your Android Phone - Free App by Street Smart Brazil

Brazilian Portuguese Grammar Guide

Verb Conjugation in Brazilian Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese info on Wikipedia

All images found on Google

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