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Pitfalls of Financial Translation

Article by Leticia Molinero © published in Apuntes, 2003

Translating financial documents into Spanish responds to a wide scope of interests and requirements and they all place a heavy responsibility upon the translator, as inaccuracies or vagaries may have substantial consequences. It has always been an important area of translation for export and, increasingly, for domestic consumption. The value of communicating in Spanish within the United States has been the focus of media attention this year, as both politicians and businesses recognize the voting and purchasing power of this growing segment of the population. Recent studies also find that Hispanics prefer to read in their language, particularly when it involves making political or financial decisions.

Probably few politicians or companies would entrust the translation of documents with heavy financial content to non-translators. However, even when assigning the task to professional translators, there is ample room for error and liability, as financial translation turns out to be one of the most misunderstood areas of translation. It is not uncommon for a good and reliable translator to undertake the translation of deceitfully "easy" financial documents, with apparently common terms such as "consideration", "equity", "risk/return ratio" or "earnings", only to get into an embarrassing quagmire.

Let's examine an exemplary case of a document originally translated by a non-specialized professional translator. The translation read well but was actually wrong. A financial translator had to undertake the ungrateful task of fixing a translation that should have been assigned to him or her to begin with.

In a document profiling an investment bank intent upon gaining a share of the Latin American emerging market, we find the following statement: "Risk management… is fundamental to achieve our risk to return characteristics". The generalist translator had this rendering : "La gestión de riesgos… es fundamental para conseguir nuestro regreso a las características de riesgo", which translated back into English means that their risk management is fundamental to return to the company's risk characteristics. This not only does not make any sense in financial circles in any language, but shows total lack of familiarity with one of the basic concepts of financial investment. The proper translation should be : "La gestión de riesgos... es fundamental para lograr nuestra relación riesgo-rendimiento", which tersely conveys the proper meaning of the financial ratio as investment goal.

Another common mistake is the translation of "consideration", which has a specific financial/legal meaning as compensation, as in Webster's Dictionary, Unabridged Edition: "6. Fee for trouble or for services; compensation; as, he will do it for a consideration." Many non-financial translators use the Spanish word "consideración", which does not convey any idea of compensation, but of the common act of considering, i.e. an opinion or a judgment.

In summary, the translation of financial documents requires the steady hand of a financial translator and should be considered a highly specialized area of translation.

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