Article > Business Operations

You sell boxes of what?

By Mandy Aguilar

Several brain development experts claim that learning a second language during childhood has a huge positive effect on intellectual growth and provides greater flexibility in thinking.
Mandy Aguilar
Several brain development experts claim that learning a second language during childhood has a huge positive effect on intellectual growth and provides greater flexibility in thinking. As a person raised with a bilingual education and as a parent raising two bilingual kids, I could not agree more.

The future opportunities my kids could have will be twice as many, as long as they are fluent in more than one language. Hopefully, this will help them open many doors to other cultures and give them the understanding to further appreciate people from countries and customs other that their own.

In my own career, I have been blessed by my knowledge of English and Spanish, allowing me to find business opportunities in countries across the globe. I have engaged several business contacts in Latin America and I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that not all “Spanish” is the same. There are incredible differences in idioms and the meaning of many words do change from country to country, even more so when we are naming auto parts across the continent.

The way we call a strut in Puerto Rico has a completely different meaning in Mexico; Struts are sometimes called “legs” in Mexico. I have learned countless variations, all in Spanish, on names for auto parts components. The literal translation for a CV axle into Spanish could mean “arrow” in one country and “shaft” in another. By far the most ridiculously funny occurrence of this translation phenomenon was when I visited Guatemala recently and I used the Puerto Rican-Spanish name for ball bearings which literally translated to “Boxes of Testicles” in Guatemala! Rest assured, I got a big laugh and no orders. And although my manhood might have been hurt a little, thankfully no actual testicles were harmed during this laugh-out-loud episode.

These peculiarities are no different in English as tech terms change from American English to British English. A “vise” clamping tool in America is known as a “vice” tool in England; I can see “vice tool” could really be interpreted as something complete different here in the States. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these names that change meaning across the Atlantic: truck and lorries, TVs and tellys, tires and tyres.

Translating is a funny business, getting the words and not the idioms is usually a funny or fatal mistake. There is indeed a lot that can and does gets lost; to this even the famous poet Robert Frost can attest with his quote, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” Believe it or not, I hate to translate. I find it a tedious labor and get too anxious trying to find a universal meaning that will play well to as many readers as possible. By the same token, when I run into a great translation, I usually enjoy it as much as an original work.

Regrettably, English to Spanish translations in our industry leave a lot to be desired. Be it marketing or training materials, they are often not well translated and that’s a shame. Many translations seem to be missing the required degree of professionalism and are riddled with mistakes, grammatical errors, missed meanings or too many regionalisms. An even more prevalent disaster is the written use of “Spanglish,” a pidgin language that has become very prevalent among people that speak both English and Spanish, which in its oral form has become quasi-acceptable at times, but it should never, never, never be used on a brochure or website promoting your company’s product and services.

One group that seems to have a great handle on translation are the folks at WHI Solutions. Their software platforms are translated to both Spanish and French and they are spot on. Perhaps the rest of the industry can follow suit soon and I think they must to keep up with the market changes. Hispanic businesses are growing in the States and consumers won’t tolerate bad translations when they are out there selecting their auto parts. In the transportation and warehousing industries alone, Hispanic-owned businesses are projecting a 60.6 percent increase over the past 10 years according to

Google Translate
This brings us to the app of the month I want to share with you: Google Translate. This is yet another free service from the folks at Google that translates text and web pages from and into many languages and it’s available at Their English to Spanish conduits and vice versa are amazingly accurate; very close to spoken language including idioms and not some breakdown of words in fragments. I have heard from friends that are fluent in French and Italian that the translations to those languages are also very good.

Please forgive the stunt I am about to do to prove this point. I wrote this paragraph that you are reading now in Spanish and let Google Translate convert it to English. While writing it, Google Translate was correcting spelling errors in Spanish and offered alternatives to me to write better. All this in real time. In the end I just did a copy and paste, and here is the final result - “¡Muy Bueno, Google!”

In the new global economy we are all exposed to foreign languages at work more frequently. I urge you to take a Google Translate test drive and have fun with it. By the way, try the name for some auto parts — you’ll be amazed at how accurate their system is; if I only used it before my big boxes of testicles gaffe in Guatemala!

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