16 Jun

Dont blame the translator!

Drama and damsels in distress; the world of South American telenovelas (which literally translates to television novels) sure is a crazy one. Though many may protest their cliched plots and over-exuberant characters, South American soap operas are currently booming in the U.S. entertainment industry, thanks to pioneering series such as “Ugly Betty”, which was first aired in 2006, and which is the American version of the hit Colombian telenovela “Yo Soy betty, La Fea”.

Here at ComTranslations, a leading subtitling agency, we’re positively up to our eyeballs in soap operas and our team of expert captioners never tire of them; it’s safe to say their lives are pretty dramatic! From the Mexican hit series “La Reina del Sur” or “The Queen of the South”, starring the fabulous Kate Del Castillo, to the popular Argentinian kids’ series “Violetta”, which took the world by storm in 2012, we’ve translated, proofread and subtitled a fair share of the many telenovelas out there.

But why are these soap operas so popular and why should we make them accessible to an Anglophone audience?

Well, to begin with, these melodramatic storylines are enough to tickle anyone’s fancy. Who can really resist a plot which includes the return of a long-lost evil twin, a narco shootout, or the topsy-turvy romance between the maid and the master? By making this content available in English, it’s automatically accessible to many more target audiences all around the world.

División de contenido

Nowadays, South American soap operas have an appeal that goes beyond just their loyal Spanish-speaking fan base. Many people who are learning Spanish, or perhaps even those who come from a Latino background but want to brush up on their linguistics:

  • Find watching content with English subtitles not only helps them pick up phrases and expressions.
  • But it’s also a great way to take a peek into the broad and rich Hispanic culture. In terms of learning Spanish.
  • There’s nothing more effective, more engaging and more culturally nuanced than watching an authentic telenovela.
  • After a few episodes of the Colombian hit series “Pasión de Gavilanes”, or “Passion of Hawks”, you’ll soon figure out why they say that Spanish is passion put into words.

But just how easy is it to translate these soaps into English?

One thing is for sure, translating the various dialects of the Hispanic language into a clear, coherent English that’s just as entertaining and engrossing as the source language is not always a bed of roses. Here at ComTranslations, some problems our skilled translators and proof-readers often encounter, but always solve, tend to involve nicknames, humour and, of course, proverbs.

In one series we translated for Netflix, the Mexican hit soap opera “Señora Acero”, or “Woman of Steel”, we came across a character called “El Empanada”, which for all you brits out there, literally translates to “The Pasty”, or for all you yanks, “The Pie”. After a bit of head-scratching and a lot of pastry-related jokes, we eventually settled on our decision to keep all Spanish nicknames as they are, as these, we feel, are what add to the beauty and authenticity of these wonderfully entertaining programmes.

When it comes to humour, proverbs and very niche parts of every language, translation can sometimes become an issue. The aim is to communicate the same message or punchline without losing its original impact. For example, the Mexican proverb “En boca cerrada, no entran moscas” literally translates to “Into a closed mouth, no flies enter”, but with a bit of research, a pinch of creativity and a dash of creative licence, we find that “Better to be seen and not heard” is a pretty good English equivalent.

So, here at ComTranslations, a professional translation and subtitling company, we’ll be donning our sombreros and watching many more hours of these gripping Latino soap operas. Olé!

Image credit: Telemundo