“Learning” Spanish in 10 seconds

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With the growing opportunities in Latin America, I've found myself having to deal with the occasional document in Spanish, despite never having taken so much as a high school class in Español. (I ended up with another language instead.) In some cases I've had to sift through getting everything in Spanish: the process description, P&IDs, you name it. Of course "you'll need to start learning the process before we've hired the translator." How to cope with a language you've never studied?

  1. Get electronic versions of the original documents. Get everything you can in text you can copy and paste. The less familiar you are with the characters of the language, the less able you are to type the words yourself, the more important this step is
  2. Piece by piece, run small parts of the process description and other text-heavy documents through the best translator I can find
  3. Research key words, tricky terms and language rules on a case-by-case basis it comes up.
  4. If at all possible, find someone who speaks the language (or even a related language) who can help you puzzle over the few remaining intractable issues. Or beg your boss to let you hire a translator for a few choice passages.
  5. Using your new understanding of the words and process, make sense of the P&IDs and other drawing

Here are some tools and tricks for steps 2 and 3:

Best free translators:

Google Translate generally has the best attempts of the free online translators I've tried. I believe I read somewhere that the strength of their service comes from the strength of their search engine: they don't simply program in grammatically words and dictionary translations. Bear in mind their company naturally has their computer "web spiders" crawling over oodles of online texts and books, and from this their programs are able to learn each language backwards: they see what words tend to go together in what order and are able to pick up on nuances of context. This helps them learn to avoid embarrassing mistakes in homonyms, and lets them pick up common terms of phrase or misspellings. By running your mouse over the translation, they also let you easily see what is translated from what Spanish words, and sometimes clicking on the English words will offer alternate translations for each Spanish word. This helps you diagnose where your translation may have gone wrong. Google also sometimes picks up on spelling errors in the original text.

http://www.spanishdict.com/ -  The “Translation” button will run your text through three different translation services. They also make it easy to add accented characters (like ó), while their dictionary lets you get all the definitions of a troublesome word.

Other translators and language resources:

http://spanish.about.com/od/spanishvocabulary/a/spanishprefixes.htm - Spanish prefixes

http://babelfish.yahoo.com/translate_txt -  Translate Texts

http://www.freetranslation.com/ -  Texts

http://www.wordchamp.com/lingua2/Search.do?- Translate a Word at a time

http://dictionary.reverso.net/spanish-english/ -  Word

Web search - Sometimes just searching a word will pull up some translations for you

http://www.irongeek.com/alt-numpad-ascii-key-combos-and-chart.html - A list of "Alt" codes that help you key in special characters, by holding alt and pressing keys on your number pad.

Tricky, common chemical engineering terms:

Bomba = pump

I. básica = Shortform of ingeniería básica, basic engineering

alimentaciones = Feeds (may be mistranslated as food, supply, or power supply)

Aerorefrigerante = air-cooling

Fondo = usually means bottom of a tower (may be translated as back, or fund)

Cabeza = head, but for in a process description often means overhead or top. (e.g. vapour leaving the top of a separator drum)

Amina = amine (sometimes translated as housewife)

Rica, pobre amina = rich / poor amine. Instead of poor we would say lean

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One Response to “Learning” Spanish in 10 seconds

  1. Russ says:

    With technology advancing faster than ever before and the amount of research and development occurring in developing countries there is a huge advantage in knowing other languages. The ability to learn from all over the world rather than just English speaking countries increases the available resources and should be considered for all engineers.

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