Autocorrect for fun

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

One of the projects we are working on here in Rome is to give input and feedback on a document, it's being called a letter, that is being written to the "Lasallian Family". It's designed to provide a framework for what it means to be Lasallian, for what it means to belong to this world wide community that shares the vocational call to a faith based education that is rooted in the spirit of St. John Baptist de La Salle.

The letter is coming from Rome and going out to people around the world who are connected to the Lasallian mission. I was very impressed with the draft, it is well organized and accomplishes the intended purpose.

One thing that has been a real challenge is the different translations from English to Spanish to French....or Spanish to French to English. There are three main writers of the document, two are native Spanish speakers/writers and one is native English speaker/writer. They each took the lead on writing two of the six chapters. So there are four chapters written first in Spanish then translated to English and French, and two chapters originally written in English and translated to Spanish and French. While the translating is good for getting the basic ideas across, I was surprised how some particular words just stuck out like a sore thumb and totally changed a concept. The examples are kinda hard to explain, but I can try to give you a couple.

One example is the word "collaborate". In the United States we think of this as a positive word, in fact it is considered a very good thing to collaborate or work together on something. In the document there are several times when the word shows up in the document that was originally written in English. It is written in the context of how lay partners and Brothers collaborate together to grow in their shared mission and commitment to the charism. Sounds good, right? Well many of the participants from South America, which includes Argentina, Mexico and Brazil reacted negatively to that word. In their culture to collaborate implies that you are working in support of an occupying enemy. Ack!

Another example is going the other direction, from Spanish to English. There's a section in the Spanish version of the document where they are talking about the spiritual journey of being Lasallian. The context is that of a pilgrimage of sorts, a journey where you are seeking some kind of spiritual or religious reward or goal. I'm not exactly sure what the Spanish word or phrase is, but when it got translated to English it was "travel itinerary." So the English document said that Lasallians are on a trip and need to make an itinerary - not quite the same sentiment as a spiritual journey!

I think most people can think of examples where things get muddled in translation. What struck me in our working groups today was how important it is to get the language right when you are trying to convey a thought or concept to a global audience. This is especially true when the document contains nuances and ideas that aren't always easy to describe, even when writing in your own native language.

There's one last example that totally cracked me up and is a little edgy, but here it is. So we are all on WhatsApp, we have our own group and people have been sending messages and pictures and such to the group even before we all got to Rome. It's a great way to communicate and strengthen our sense of community within our group.

After dinner tonight we did a group activity (in Spanish it translates to "group dynamic") which lasted until around 9:30pm our time. We all headed up to our rooms right after since it was pretty late. Somebody messaged that they couldn't find their room key and did anybody take it by mistake since they had already checked around in the meeting room. The message was written in Spanish, and getting no luck on finding the key, the person ended up saying they would sleep in the room with Stella, one of the participants. So here's the funny part related to translating. When the original message got translated into English the gender of the person got switched. It was a women who lost her key, but the translation said "He can't find his key, he's just going to sleep with Stella" (Stella of course, being female). Well quick as can be, one of the Brothers got on and said "The best way to proceed would be to get a blanket and sleep on a chair in the meeting room." Somebody wrote back quickly and clarified that it was a female who would be sharing the room with a female - to which the Brother replied, "Well that solves the problem."!

Oh, and one last interesting thing. When our English speaking group was doing some editing on the translated document, the autocorrect function was set to Spanish (from the original authors document) so it kept on trying to make our English words into Spanish words. If you are ever bored you can open a document, switch the language something besides English for autocorrect and just start's pretty entertaining and fun!

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