When I arrived at Mom’s, I mentioned that I had a project for her to do. I wished to
have her mind challenged, trying her ‘hand’ once again at translating. I borrowed an
adorable book from my grandson, Micah, called: “Bear Says Thanks.” This has been
already translated into Spanish on the bottom of each page. I was hoping Mom would
enjoy this little idea and tell me a little bit about how things that rhyme in English,
as this is written with a nice cadence and lovely blending of words, turn out when put
into another language.
(If you are just dropping by, my Mom taught World Literature and Spanish to high
school students for 30 years.)
The Spanish title of this book is easily translated with no changes in meaning:
“Oso Dice Gracias.” If you would like to find this book, written by Karma Wilson and
illustrated with charming animals who gather for a feast. Perfect Thanksgiving book,
with the meaning of gratitude and friendship themes easily understood by a 3-4 year
old. The illustrator, Jane Chapman, captures sweet expressions on the various creatures
of the woods, along with the playful sense of humor.
I had taken white 3 x 5″ cards and carefully covered the given Spanish translation, using
yellow Sticky Tack to keep the cards over the words, without ruining my grandson’s book.
Mom decided to give me a short tutorial in translation, reminding me of several rules
of language since I had had about 6 years of Spanish, along with one year of French. I
was not too bad while teaching a non-English speaking student while fresh out of
college, in my sixth grade class. I was always much better listening and comprehending,
as in my travels to Mexico and Spain. I also was fairly adept at reading Spanish, just have
a hard time speaking in complex sentences. She reminded me that there are sometimes
words that may change according to the ‘sex’ of the person. Her example of this was:
“vieja” would mean an older woman and “viejo” would mean an older man. When you
learn beginning Spanish, I remembered “amiga’ was my girlfriend, while my guy friends
Mom said this book in English has “beautiful flow of words,” which is difficult to capture
when translating it.
Here is an example of the English words that Mom found challenging.
“I’m back from a stroll
from the old fishing hole
(and it later rhymes again with ‘pole.’)
The words ‘fishing hole’ are already complicated becoming: “pescaria.” This is an all-
encompassing word for all things that are fishing related.
Here are the list of animals in the story:
(Mom was easily able to translate all but the Raven, Wren and Gopher.)
Badger = Tejon (It needs an accent on the “o” Mom told me.)
Wren = Chochin (It needs an accent on the “I” Mom mentioned.)
Owl = Buho (The “u” needs an accent to emphasize the first syllable, Mom said.)
Mouse = Raton (The “o” gets an accent.)
Gopher = Taltuza
Hare = Liebre
Raven = Cuervo (I thought this was part of an alcoholic beverage. Smile!)
**Mole = Topo
This was very confusing to us both.
We peeked at this name, which both Mom and I made a comment about “Topo Gigio,”
a puppet. I had forgotten this little character in both Spanish and Italian plays until I
heard the word, “Topo” which I immediately blurted out, “Gigio.” Mom sagely nodded
her head, when I said the last part. She told me this was ‘puzzling.’ We both thought
that “Topo Gigio” was a mouse! Why in this book is the word for mole, “topo” while
the word for mouse sounds like it is a rat, “raton”?)**
Mom did not easily translate the following phrase, so I let her ‘cheat’ and ‘peek.’
In English, “smiles real wide.”
In Spanish, “y de oreja a oreja sonrie.” This means a smile that is ‘cheek to cheek.’)
The friendly tone and playful words of:
“There’s a flap and a flutter
and a flurry in the den,
when in flutters Owl, Raven and Wren.”
(Karma’s lovely flowing words.)
Mom read and re-read those words, she was uncertain how to translate the “f” words.
Mom refrained from saying her own “f” word!
In this case of the different animals arriving there are several different words used to
describe the motions. Even in English there are a lot of words you may use for one word.
“You need to be careful,” Mom told me, “when you are choosing a word with a distinct
meaning. We want to carry out the flavor, intent and feeling of the author’s writing. You
would not wish to offend anyone, either, while translating words from one language to
This children’s book, “Bear Says Thanks/ Oso Dice Gracias” was overwhelming for Mom,
to change into Spanish. We still don’t feel we did as well as the examples given on each page.
“We didn’t do this simple, but meaningful book justice,” Mom exclaimed.
The last page where all the animals gather has a considerate Bear apologizing because
he doesn’t have any food to bring to the feast. The different animals have gathered to
commune together and break bread. All of them tell Bear, ‘his gift’ is to tell them stories.
This is what makes him special. There’s no need to bring anything to eat, since each one
has brought more than enough to share.
What a beautiful lesson given with charming pictures which could be a book your
family will treasure.
Mom said that the way a person may choose a tense or a synonym may be the same
as people writing a paper in English. We may choose ‘lovely’ and another may choose
the word, ‘beautiful.’ We may use the word, ‘sparkly’ while another may use ‘shiny.’
She made a funny comment that I had to immediately write down so I would not forget.
She even used a little ‘saucy tone,’
“Different strokes for different folks.”
Mom went on to emphasize the meaning behind the words we choose depends not only
on the context of the sentence, but also upon the tone used. Here is another “Momism:”
“Our different experiences color our reactions to things. We need to use reverence and
respect towards the culture of the country whose language you are translating from or
into. This is important whenever we try to translate someone else’s writing.”