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.

Rihanna es …


Rihanna es de Barbados. ¿Qué es la nacionalidad de Rihanna? ¿Sabes?

We were studying countries and nationalities in Spanish class the other day. I don’t like to brag, but I like to tell my students that I know most of the countries’ names in Spanish and their nationalities. I challenge the students to challenge me with countries not listed in the Spanish textbook. Well, one student asked me what Rihanna’s nationality was. Did I know her nationality? Of course, not! I asked the student for Rihanna’s country and he said Barbados. I still couldn’t say what her nationality was.

What to do? What to do? Well, I went to my old friend Wikipedia and looked up Rihanna. An entry with Rihanna’s biography in English immediately popped up. I know Wikipedia is still not a reliable reference source, but Wikipedia is great for translating into other languages. If you look in the left column after you find your Wikipedia article, you will see many other languages into which the article is translated. Since español is one of the top languages of the world, most of the articles are translated into Spanish.

Once I found the Rihanna article in English, I switched to the Spanish translation. I soon found Rihanna’s nationality in Spanish! ¡Rihanna es barbadense! Since my classroom has a computer with an Internet connection, I was able to tell the class Rihanna’s nationality in less than two minutes! I wish I could tell you that the class was impressed with my Spanish research skills, but sadly, they were merely surprised that I even knew who Rihanna was!

Translations


A Spanish student's best friend!

Translation from one language to another always poses a problem. Dictionaries alone aren’t enough. They never have the latest technological terms. New products aren’t in there either. For new products, I looked at the sales inserts of our local Spanish papers and most of the time I found the term I needed.

Now, with the Internet, there are all kinds of translators available. Sometimes students use them for their Spanish compositions. They write the composition in English first and then have the translator translate it for them. I can always tell when they use the translator because the composition looks as if it’s written in Spanish. However, the text is unintelligible. Yes, every word is in Spanish, but the wrong words were chosen and the syntax is all wrong. The students write a better composition if they write entirely in Spanish. Even when they make mistakes, I can still decipher their intended meaning.

Occasionally, when I need to translate a word that’s not in one of my many dictionaries, I go to the internet and use an online translator for a word or two. Not all the translations are satisfactory. I’ve discovered that Wikipedia.com makes a great translator. A student needed to translate jigsaw puzzle and none of my dictionaries had it. So I looked up jigsaw puzzle on Wikipedia and then I chose to read the article in Spanish got rompecabezas. For years, I’ve meaning to translate Daylight Saving Time into Spanish unsuccessfully. Today I looked it up on wikipedia and got el horario de verano. This method would work for many languages because most of the Wikipedia articles are translated into many languages.