Lunfardo: The Slang of Buenos Aires

Argentine Spanish is peppered with words and phrases from Lunfardo, a vast vocabulary developed on the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century.  Criminals and other shady characters looking to keep their activities under wraps developed Lunfardo by borrowing and twisting words from the melting pot of languages that surrounded them, allowing them to communicate with each other even in the presence of the police or prison guards.  While initially used by the more unsavory element of Argentine society, Lunfardo was later popularized through the tango, literary art forms, and upwardly mobile immigrants and has become a part of everyday, informal speech regardless of social class.  Today, the use of Lunfardo is most prevalent in Argentina (particularly in and around Buenos Aires) and Uruguay, though some elements have been adopted by neighboring countries such as Chile and Paraguay.

Lunfardo was largely a product of the great wave of European immigration to Argentina that took place from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s.  The huge influx of immigrants hailing from Spain, Italy and France, many of whom spoke non-standard regional dialects or languages, greatly influenced the development of Lunfardo.  Certain words also arrived via the gauchos from Argentina’s interior as well as from native groups like the Guaraní, Quechua and Mapuche.

One of the features of Lunfardo is the use of vesre, a form of wordplay that involves reversing the order of syllables in a word.  The term “vesre” is derived from the Spanish word “revés” (in reverse/backwards).  Examples of vesre include café → feca (coffee), pantalones → lompa (a truncated form of the word for pants) and hotel → telo (a pay-by-the-hour love motel).

In addition to vesre, Lunfardo also employs words based on metaphors such as tumbero, a slang term for “convict” that originates from the Spanish word “tumba” meaning grave.  Another example is the word “campana” (Spanish for “bell”), which describes the lookout man ready to sound the alarm should the police suddenly arrive on the scene.

For those of you looking to add a splash of color to your Spanish, the following websites have compiled an extensive list of Lunfardo words and phrases: Argentine Spanish Slang Dictionary, Wally’s Dictionary of Argentine Colloquialism and Culture and Diccionario de Lunfardo.

Some Lunfardo words added to our blog:

Meaning of “guita

Lunfardo: Money Talk

Meaning of Atorrante

See also: Linguistic Features of Rioplatense (River Plate) Spanish

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Payment Methods for Freelance Translators in US and Abroad

Translators around the world have never had it so good.  With the translation business blooming, they seek to stand a lot from their work. The methods by which translators get paid are many and varied. Many agencies prefer to pay their clients through ACH or Automated Clearing House, in which, it is possible to deposit money directly into the translator’s bank account with the help of electronic financial transactions. Known as direct deposit method, it offers great convenience.

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Another payment method that has become popular with both employers and translators is Paypal.  Paypal basically is an e-commerce website which allows transactions to be made electronically. It has become a great platform for companies and organizations to pay their translators without the need of traveling or any paper-work.  Withdrawal or transactions from the Paypal account to bank account and credit cards are possible. It is free to register and is a highly cost-effective option for many translators worldwide.

Moneybookers is also an international e-wallet system that allows for electronic transactions. The money employers pay can be directly credited to the Moneybooker’s account.  Money can be then withdrawn from the account to a bank account or onto a credit card. Electronic transfer is possible only if the bank the translators use is connected to a SWIFT network and it does not operate in some countries.

Wire transfer can also be used to transfer money from one bank account to the other all over the world. All international bank transfers work along with the SWIFT system. Wire transfers are very fast, however, international wire transfers can prove to be very expensive. The entire process related to the transactions is very complicated as all the details regarding bank accounts have to be completely accurate before proceeding to the next step. Transactions can occur within minutes if they are within the same country and a few days if they are of international nature.

These days many of the organizations offer their own credit card with the help of services such as Payoneer. Translators can transfer funds from their online account into the credit card and then use it according to their requirement. Thus, the number of payment methods offered to translators are numerous and depending on their preference and requirements, a particular payment method can be chosen which both the employer and translator are compatible with.

Delicate work in translation

A letter to the New York Times Book Review complained that Gerald Martin, the biographer of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, had not given due respect to Marquez’s translators. Martin raves about Marquez’s “gorgeous sentences,” but the letter writer complains that he “neglects to mention whether he read those sentences in Spanish or English.” I have often wondered as I am reading a translation how much I am indebted to the original author, how much to the translator.

I’ve heard that the Prendergast translation of Proust’s Remembrances of Things Past is better than the old Moncrieff version, the one I own. When I finally get around to reading the novel, would my experience be heightened if I bought the new one?

I don’t know any language well enough to translate, but I did have a glimmer of the practice when I studied Russian for four years. Professor Pastuhova told me that I spoke Russian with a Boston accent and hinted that the only reason I passed her courses was that I could translate the literature into good English. She had been the tutor of Tolstoi’s grandchildren – her passion was Russian literature. I had to go word by word, using my Russian-English dictionary, but I found that I was reading the work with wonderful concentration. I fancied that I got further into its soul.

I inherited my grandfather’s interlinear New Testament and was so enthralled with it that I bought myself an interlinear Old Testament. Reynolds Price, in his book of essays, A Palpable God, explained why, as a novelist, he decided to translate some parts of the Bible, knowing no Greek or Hebrew. He convinced me to do the same. Scholars have suggested that some of the psalms might have been written by a woman in King David’s court. I looked for one that seemed to be from a woman’s point of view, chose 139, and using my interlinear Old Testament and, aided by commentaries, I translated it. Even though I was faithful to the text, I could give it a spin, emphasizing what a woman thinks of her body. I better understood the rhythm, form and certainly the meaning of the psalm.

My friend Jo-Anne Elder has published a book of short stories as well as poetry and essays, but she is better known as a translator. Two of her translations of Acadian literature have been nominated for Governor General’s Awards. How do juries choose between translations of very different kinds of books? Do they look for those that are unusually faithful to the original or for those that read as though they were originally written in the new language?

Herménégilde Chiasson invented a brilliant poetic form in his Beatitudes, hundreds of lines beginning “those who;” the reader supplies the “blessed are.” Elder translates one as “those who sing at the top of their lungs during storms.” Is the rhythm of the line as good in French, presenting the same vivid picture?

Elder at first translated Acadian poetry in collaboration with the poet Fred Cogswell. Cogswell told me that translating was like doing a crossword puzzle, a good activity while he was watching a baseball game. I’m sure it’s not that easy.

For my The Writing on the Wall project at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Nela Rio’s Spanish poem was translated into French by Elder and poet Rose Després and into English by Hugh Hazelton. Elder wrote me, “I noticed (I think!) that Hugh took a couple of liberties, so I did, too, for the rhythm, which was so strong in the poem. I’ve tried to make it contemplative, because that’s how I heard it.”

The NotaBle Acts theatre festival of New Brunswick plays opened with On and Off the Shelf, an Acadian play by Marcel-Romain Thériault translated by Elder. Translating plays must present a different set of problems from translating poetry. The dialogue has to sound authentic and yet has to convey more meaning than real speech does. The original title is Disponibles en librairie – “available at bookstores.” Why the change? The question is often asked: “What got lost in translation?” Even if you’ve learned another language so well you can translate it into your mother language, can you ever know the nuances and the emotions associated with words and phrases that a child learns instinctively? I frequently weep in church when we sing a hymn that was part of my childhood but never weep when we sing those I’ve been singing at Wilmot United for 44 years.

When I read Marquez, I am getting plot and characterization but not his actual words. We say that Shakespeare is all about language, but his plays have always been revered in other tongues. I think it must be that languages other than our own, although incomprehensible to us when spoken, have an essence we recognize.

Nancy Bauer is an arts columnist who lives in Fredericton. She can be reached at


Translators Wanted at LinkedIn. The Pay? $0 an Hour.

About half of the 42 million members of LinkedIn, the online professional networking Web site, are outside the United States, and to further expand internationally, the company hopes to be translated into more than its current four languages — English, Spanish, French and German. But when LinkedIn asked thousands of its translator members to complete a survey this month that asked whether they would consider volunteering to translate the site into other languages, many said “nyet.”

Chris Irwin, who lives outside London, was irked by the third multiple-choice question, which asked what “incentive” translators would prefer, with five nonmonetary choices including an upgraded LinkedIn account and none (“because it’s fun”). Mr. Irwin checked a sixth choice, “Other,” typing in that he would prefer cash. In a phone interview, Mr. Irwin said he was surprised that LinkedIn “would have the effrontery to ask for a professional service for free.”

Another translator, Matthew Bennett, who is based in Murcia in Spain, started a group on LinkedIn for those annoyed by the survey, and it swelled to about 300.

Some translators are upset because LinkedIn showed “an enormous amount of disrespect towards them and their work from a networking site for professionals where ‘relationships matter,’ ” wrote Mr. Bennett on his personal blog, referring to one of LinkedIn’s marketing slogans.

But LinkedIn insists that the interpreters are, well, misinterpreting.

Nico Posner, the LinkedIn product manager who circulated the survey, declined to be interviewed but in a post to Mr. Bennett’s group wrote that the survey was not asking translators to volunteer per se. He said he was trying to find out whether they would consider “crowd sourcing,” borrowing the term applied to companies like Wikipedia that rely on volunteers’ collective wisdom.

“While I realize that many professionals in the translation and localization field will not be interested in participating in a crowd sourcing opportunity on LinkedIn,” Mr. Posner wrote, others “would welcome an opportunity to volunteer some of their time and skills towards translating the LinkedIn site and highlight their professional work on their LinkedIn profile, not only for pride and glory, but hopefully to land more paid work.”

In a post on LinkedIn’s company blog, Mr. Posner added that thousands of respondents said they would volunteer, especially if credited on the site.

“I didn’t feel cheapened or exploited at all when they asked,” said Erika Baker, of North Somerset, England. “I just thought, ‘Wow what an opportunity.’ ” A translator for more than 15 years, Ms. Baker said that she had rarely been credited as she would be on the LinkedIn project and that she was certain it would bring in paying work.

“These are new ways of marketing, and the Internet is really the way to go,” Ms. Baker said.

Recently a group of illustrators took umbrage when Google asked them to provide free artwork to feature on its Chrome browser; Google countered that it was offering free exposure and that dozens of other artists had signed on.

In 2007, Facebook asked volunteers to offer translations of the standard explanatory language throughout the site into more than 20 languages, with translators voting among themselves for preferred verbiage. Some faulted the company, saying it was shortchanging translators.

But Nataly Kelly, a former Spanish translator who is an analyst at Common Sense Advisory, a research firm that studies how companies translate, said that Facebook’s critics had missed the big picture.

“It would have been far cheaper for Facebook to pay translators 10 cents a word to translate material than to build a community and pay engineers to set up all this infrastructure,” said Ms. Kelly, who volunteered on the Facebook project herself, casting a vote on such head-scratchers as what to call the Facebook profile “wall,” since in Spanish there are different words for interior and exterior walls.

Web sites may expand using volunteer translators, but they often also pay for work, not only in editing and proofreading the volunteers’ efforts, but also in translating content that requires less local flavor and more legal precision, like privacy policies, Ms. Kelly said.

But Ms. Kelly is sympathetic to translators, who “are often taken advantage of and paid late if at all,” and said LinkedIn had acted undiplomatically.

“It might have been more appropriate for LinkedIn to make it very clear what kind of process this was, and the fact that they employ full-time translators, to appease the fears of translators,” Ms. Kelly said. “That would have prevented a lot of the backlash.”


Offline Resources for Translators

As a freelance translator, you probably have both a virtual library of resources and tools as well as an actual resource library.  Most likely your virtual library is beefier because so much of a translator’s work is done on the computer.  Translation memories, glossaries, forums that help you with difficult terms, translator community forums all make freelance translation work much easier.  Online resources have the added benefit of being constantly updated and through online communities, you can get answers and advice almost in real-time.

But having paper resources available can get you through times when your Internet connection fails and reacquaint you with the tactile pleasures of flipping through a book for help rather than scrolling through yet another web page.

Your translation library should have a selection from each of the following categories: the general practice and craft of translation; translation theory and study; works devoted specifically to your specialty in both the target and source language; and comprehensive dictionaries and grammar books.

Where can you find exhaustive lists of books and articles that can facilitate your work? Online, of course!

Transpanish’s online list of translation books for the Spanish-English translation is the first place to start when considering what you’ll need for your library. This list includes not only general guides for English-Spanish translation and grammar but also more specific dictionaries for various specialties, such as finance, law, and medicine.

While many books and articles in this bibliography are specific to Bible translation, others are more general resources about translation theory.  The bibliography also includes a few works about using gender-neutral language.

Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications, written by Jeremy Munday and published by Routledge is not only an introductory textbook but it also includes an extensive bibliography from which you can take notes to expand your collection.

SIL International offers the granddaddy of all bibliographies online, with over 20,000 entries in various topics both directly related to translation and ancillary to the field.  Click here for an overview of this bibliography.

Translators are researchers and information gatherers at heart, so please enjoy some of these resources to start a collection of books that will enhance your practice of the translation craft!

Spanish-English Translations: Business Errors to Avoid

Transpanish’s April 1st post focused on things that novices to the craft of English-Spanish translations should avoid.  This weeks post will focus on the business side of freelance translating.  Novice Spanish translators may be eager to please their first few clients, and that makes sense.  But beware of being so eager to please that you end up exhausted with very little return or making mistakes that could potentially turn clients off from being repeat buyers.

To avoid this, keep the following in mind:

1. This is a business!  As a freelance translator, you are first and foremost a business person.  Your translation services are what you sell, but you also need sound business practices to survive and thrive.  Consider taking a course in running a freelance business at your local college or adult education center.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate with your translation buyers.  Don’t stalk them and update them on every miniscule bit of progress you make, but do keep in touch with them.  Ask them clarifying questions and remind them that their answers help you provide them with a superlative end product.  If it’s a large project and the deadline is far off, don’t just disappear.  It’s good relationship building to check in occasionally, even if it’s just to say that you’re making progress.

3. Be realistic about what you can complete.  Don’t jump at the chance to take on a project if the terms seem unrealistic.  If the buyer wants 10,000 words translated in a day, be honest that this is not realistic.  Rather than taking on a project that’s too large and then renegotiating the terms after, only agree to projects you know you can accomplish.  As you start out, you may have a learning curve about your output which could cause some sleepless nights but as you go you should start determining what you can really do.

4. Get the project terms in writing.  How many rewrites and adjustments are you willing to make before tacking on extra fees?  Do both you and the buyer understand the terms of payment?  Sort this out beforehand and set the terms down in writing before starting a Spanish translation project.

These four tips should get you started as you think about how to manage your freelance translation business and apply whether you freelance after a day job or want to translate full time.  Being prepared will have the dual benefit of protecting yourself and keeping translation buyers happy.

Spanish-English Translations: Pitfalls to Avoid

As with any field, newbies at freelance translation will make mistakes. But being aware of possible mistakes and correcting those errors is a part of any freelance translator’s journey from novice to expert. This list of tips will focus on errors of content and the nuts and bolts of translation work, not on the freelance business side of the equation.

  • Know your audience.Or in translator lingo, don’t forget about localization. If you translate from English to Spanish, is your audience Spanish? Mexican? South American? While you may be Argentine, if your main audience is from Central America, the translated message may be misconstrued or garbled because of differences in word usage. If you work from Spanish to English, will the translated document be used in Australia or the U.S.?

  • Translate content, not each word. Truthfully, if you translate each word without regard for the grammatical and syntactical conventions of the target language, you should not be translating. Spanish to English and English translations require a sophisticated knowledge of both languages. Leave word-for-word translations to those beginning the study of a language or online machine translators, not a paid freelance translator.

  • Be consistent throughout your translated document.While both English and Spanish are rich with different vocabulary words that mean similar things, don’t forgo consistency of terminology throughout a document. This is especially true in technical translations, as the language is very specific.If you translate documents with high word counts or different documents with similar content, consider using translation memory software. This will save you time over the course of the project as well as lend consistency throughout.

  • Only translate into your native language.If your native language is Spanish and your second language English, only translate into Spanish.While your English may be impeccable, there is no substitute for a native English speaker’s translation and vice versa.

  • Invite constructive criticism and feedback from your translation mentor. Your mentor can offer you invaluable insight that will allow you to grow as a Spanish to English or English to Spanish translator. Being open to their perspective and advice will enrich your translation work and facilitate your journey from novice to seasoned translator.

Finding Translation Work Close to Home

English to Spanish translators who live in urban areas or even rural areas with many Spanish speakers can find translation work close to home.  It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and knowing how to sell your Spanish translation services.  Mining your local resources to find new clients who need documents translated from English to Spanish can help you land a variety of translation assignments.

Below is a list of ideas and resources for you to get started:

1. Local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Association:

Reach out to potential clients by attending meetings, networking functions, or putting an advertisement for your services in their newsletter.

2. Local Translation Agencies:

Most cities have a number of translation agencies that work with freelance translators, and in many U.S. cities, there is a high demand for English to Spanish as a language pair.  Some nonprofits also have a for-profit branch in which they employ freelancers to do translation work.

3. Nonprofits:

While a nonprofit may not have a big budget and many projects for you to work on, this is an extremely close-knit community.  A nonprofit focusing on education may only need you for a one-time English to Spanish translation of a letter to parents, but you can be sure that this agency has close connections to agencies providing other services with similar translation needs.

4. State and city government departments:

State and city agencies have to comply with laws regarding dissemination of information regardless of native language, and approaching these places may yield some English to Spanish translation work.

5.  Networking with Acquaintances, Friends, and Family:

Even at social events, you know full well that the subject often turns to work, and the business card exchange isn’t far behind.  This tactic may not bear immediate fruit, but you never know when the business card you gave to someone at a cocktail party last year will find its way into the hands of a small business owner who wants to market his services to Spanish speakers.

These five resources are only a start, but as an English to Spanish translator, you understand the importance of marketing your services in creative ways.  Keep in mind that some of the translation work you find might be outside of your specialty area. If you have a medical terminology background but not a legal one, you can’t provide the highest quality translation for a law office.  But that lawyer you turned down may appreciate your honesty and refer you to a doctor he knows needs English to Spanish translations.

Online Resources for Spanish-English Translators

Freelance translation work can be a very lonely pursuit, as many Spanish-English translators can attest.  But the Internet is rich with resources for translators that include community and assistance with translations.  This week the Transpanish blog will highlight three forums for translators that offer both help with translations as well as camaraderie and discussions about larger translation issues.’s KudoZ Forum and General Forum

ProZ is an authoritative forum and job search board for translators working in hundreds of different language pairs.  On their KudoZ forum, registered users are able to ask questions about tough translation terms and receive answers from other ProZ users.  The person who asks the question is then able to rate the answers based on how helpful they were.

At the entry page to the KudoZ forum, a user is able to refine the questions posted by language pair, and Spanish-English appears as a “major pair” on the right-hand side of the screen.  The site breaks down the questions into two categories: non-Pro (meaning any bilingual person could answer) and Pro (a question requiring specialized translation knowledge).  For Pro questions, you must log on to post.

ProZ also has an extensive community forum where users can discuss the finer points of linguistics, issues with translation memory software, and the ins and outs of being a freelance translator, along with many more topics.

To resister on, start here.  Members can use many site features, but to have full access to everything they offer, you must upgrade to a paid membership.

Word Reference’s Dictionary and Forums

In addition to an excellent online dictionary, Word Reference also has a forum for questions about Spanish-English translation terms.  In fact, when you search Word Reference for a word or phrase, the search engine also pulls up anything similar that’s been discussed on the forum.

The site is easy to navigate and you don’t need to register to browse the forums.  You will need to register to post.  The Spanish-English forums are at the top of the community page, and the sub-forums include General Vocabulary, Grammar, Specialized Terminology (further broken down into subcategories), and Resources.

The interface between the online dictionary and the translation forums is extremely helpful.  Many knowledgeable bilingual Spanish-English speakers post, though the forums are less geared towards professional translators than ProZ’s.

Translator’s Café Terminology and Discussion Forums

The Translator’s Café site is also geared specifically toward freelance translators, and has many of the same features that ProZ boasts.  You can post questions about difficult terminology at their TCTerms portal. You may search for language pair and further refine your results by specialization.

The Café has an extensive menu of sub-forums for freelance translators to discuss many topics related to the freelancer’s life and career.

To start using many of the free features, click here to register. As a Master Member who can access all features, you will have to pay to upgrade.