Rompiendo Malo


Rompiendo Malo. Lost in translation. If translation is the correct word to use when describing what the writers for the hit show Breaking Bad do when they write dialogue in Spanish. I feel as though whoever wrote the Spanish dialogue in Breaking Bad only studied Spanish in high school, or perhaps even the minimum required college Spanish.

Breaking Bad has a lot of characters speaking Spanish, but as a Spanish instructor, I couldn’t help but analyze their use of Spanish. When Skylar of Walter White speak in Spanish poorly, it’s understandable because they’re not native Spanish speakers. However, how can you live in the state of New Mexico with so many Spanish speakers and not know at least a little Spanish?

In general, the script writer literally translated English dialogue into Spanish and did so very poorly. In one meeting with members of the Mexican cartel, Gustavo Fring tells his guests to take a seat by saying in Spanish, “Tomen un asiento.” That is a literal translation of, “Take a seat.” If you offer someone a seat in Spanish, you should say, “Siéntense.” This bad translation is totally unacceptable because the character of Gustavo Fring is from Chile so he is a native Spanish speaker. However, the actor Giancarlo Esposito, however, does not speak Spanish and his pronunciation in Spanish is lacking. It is even more noticeable because of his otherwise good acting. Perhaps Esposito needed to rehearse his lines in Spanish a little more.

In another scene, Tío Héctor says to to Gustavo and Max while at a meeting with Don Eladio, “Quédete.” This is poor grammar and no native Spanish speaker would ever say this. “Quede” is a formal command, but the actor Mark Margolis uses the familiar reflexive pronoun “te” instead of the required formal pronoun “se.” He could have used either a formal or familiar command, but Spanish does not allow for a little of both. He needed to say, “Quédese” or “Quédate”, but never “Quédete”.

However, not all the Spanish spoken in Breaking Bad is terrible. When the actors who are native Spanish speakers speak Spanish, they speak much better Spanish. They probably read the script and said, “Wait. No one would ever say this in Spanish!” because they then say their lines in a more natural Spanish and not a literal translation into English where one word after the other is translated into English. I could tell by the subtitles in English when Spanish is spoken. In other scenes not with native Spanish speakers, the Spanish words follow the same order as the words in the English subtitle.

When Jesse Pinkman is at his new girlfriend Andrea’s house, her mother mother immediately disapproves of Andrea’s choice of a new boyfriend. The mother immediately begins speaking in Spanish, good Spanish, what she thinks of her daughter and Pinkman, none of it very good. Interestingly enough, there are no English subtitles for this dialogue. My theory is that there was no dialogue written for this scene and the actress Virginia Montero merely ad libbed her dialogue in a Spanish language that was very natural to her. I could picture my mother or grandmother speaking like this. Of course, no one from the show was able to translate this into English subtitles.

What does Breaking Bad actually mean? Well, one meaning of “breaking” is changing directions, such as breaking to the right or to the left. Or, one can be breaking good or breaking bad, separating from path to another. In this show, everyone is breaking bad. Everyone was more or less good at the start, but then they started breaking bad, especially Walter White.

For the title of this post, I merely literally translated Breaking Bad into Rompiendo Malo. Breaking = Rompiendo and Bad = Malo. I looked up “breaking” and “bad” on wordreference.com and I found “rompiendo” and “malo” for the translations. However, Rompiendo Malo doesn’t mean anything in Spanish. I admit that this is a very poor way to translate one language into another, but I feel that the writers of Breaking Bad did this for many of the speeches in Spanish.

I suppose I wouldn’t have noticed the Spanish dialogue if I wasn’t a Spanish instructor. But I am and I did. I’m breaking good.

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David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D.

I write about whatever comes to mind. También enseño español y escribo acerca de los mexicanos y la enseñanza del español.