Apr 14 2011

How to make CFCA letters easier to translate

Ana Carla

When it comes to letter writing, CFCA translators worldwide make an important contribution.

Translating a letter requires more than knowledge of the language. It requires an ability to convey the author’s true sentiment.

Ana Carla Agreda and Paulo Alfonso Pleitez Barrera have translated thousands of letters in El Salvador. They offer tips to make letters easier to translate and for sponsored friends to understand.

What are some challenges in translating letters from English?

Ana Carla: There are some phrases and words in some states that only the sponsors understand what they mean. I am lucky to have translators who can help me.

Paulo: Most letters arenít that difficult, but in some cases there are sponsors who use technical language or language specific to their profession such as nuclear chemistry, law and other professions.

Tips from Ana Carla and Paulo
  • Talk about the weather, your family or your daily life.
  • Encourage your friend.
  • Give context. Letters typically sent to friends and family about holidays are sometimes difficult for sponsored friends to understand, especially the events in these letters.
  • Try to avoid idiomatic phrases, such as “easy as cake” or “I died when I heard the news.”
  • Use short, simple sentences and avoid slang. Here are examples that have caused confusion: “jump the couch” as in losing control or going crazy; to “maul” someone with hugs and kisses; and using the word “kicks” to mean shoes.
  • Write legibly, print neatly or type your letter since handwriting can sometimes be difficult to read.
  • Provide a brief explanation when writing about American holidays and customs since these will likely be new ‘holidays’ for your friend. Here are some examples: “Pumpkin pie,” Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Wise Men (use “Three Kings” instead), Trick or Treat.

These words donít always translate easily to another language. Or sponsors use words that in the U.S. have another meaning.

For example, in English, the word ìvacationî is when you leave to travel, spend 15 days away. Here, it is when the children have free days and donít go to school.

Also, levels of school are difficult. The sponsors say it differently, like ìmy child is in 11th grade.î So I try to relate it to our terms so we can translate it and make it familiar.

Can you share one of the most memorable letters you have translated?

Ana Carla: There are letters so beautiful that they make you think and wish you could be part of that friendship.

Paulo: Each letter I translate is a new experience. You start to feel part of the story. The sponsors always try to transmit new knowledge and this helps the sponsored friend imagine and open their minds.

I remember one sponsor who sponsors several children in different countries of the world. There was one letter I enjoyed translating it a lot.

He described that he had gone to visit children he sponsored in Central America and Mexico. He sent photos of an amusement park in Mexico.

I will never forget it because it transported me to the place he was describing. I imagine it was the same for the child, since the child is limited to the small village, neighborhood or wherever they live.

There are children who donít have the opportunity to see things on the Internet or television to give them an idea of what these places are like. With these anecdotes, the child knows and it makes him use his or her imagination.

We appreciate your effort in writing to your sponsored friends, who treasure every letter!

0 thoughts on “How to make CFCA letters easier to translate”

  1. Thank you for your suggestions about letter writing. Because I write in Spanish to my sponsored child in Guatemala, I understand what you are saying about trying to translate idomatic expressions. Here’s something I like to do: I save pictures from the paper of beautiful areas near my home: Niagara River, Lake Erie, State parks, etc. Then when I write about going to the park or marina, I can send an illustration. We also experience big snowstorms — something my sponsored child has never seen. I once wrote a letter about everything we do to when there is a snowstorm. I sent photos from the paper of snowplows and people clearing their sidewalk or digging out their car. I also included newspaper photos of everyday things that continue despite the snow: walking the dog, carrying home groceries, etc., and things we do for fun: sledding, skiing, playing hockey, ice fishing, ice skating. The letter and photos were a big hit!

    1. I so appreciate all the letters that I have recieved over the past 8 years since we started with Maria who lives in Guatemala. It is so fun to recieve letters and see how they answer your questins that you ask. I love and am always excited to see how they translate the letters – going both ways. WHat a special job you get to do and I so appreciate each and every letter that is translated. Thanks you and keep up the great job.
      God Bless you each day in every way,
      Marsha M

    2. This is a great idea, to cut pictures from the newspaper, or send family photos in the snow, etc, doing common things, or celebrating. This whole article about tips for letter writing should be a more “upfront” article. It would help people with ideas and encourage letter writing, along with making letters easier for those who translate.

  2. Great advice. I would like to take some of this information and share it in our parish newsletter for the other sponsors in our church. Also adding this web address to the article to continue to remind people what great content you have out here for us.

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