Well, what kind of Portuguese?

Portuguese is a language spoken in the relatively small country on the western outreaches of the Iberian Peninsula. But that’s not all - it is spoken in plenty of other places too. Mainly in other places, to be honest: Although Portugal itself has just under 11 million citizens, there are over 190 million Portuguese speakers in Brazil – which makes it the most widely-spoken language in South America. Portuguese is also encountered in other southern countries on the African continent, such as Mozambique and Angola.

Continental differences

There’s one thing that anyone translating between Portuguese and German needs to keep in mind: There are different variations of Portuguese, and there are substantial differences in the dialects of the language spoken on the different continents. Sandra Robitsch, a qualified translator for Portuguese, Spanish and other languages, can only concur: “The regional versions of Portuguese are fundamentally different. This is evident in everyday words alone.” Portuguese people would use ‘apelido’ for ‘surname’, while Brazilians say ‘sobrenome’. ‘Empregado’ is a waiter in Portugal, but simply an employee in Brazil. Its’s not just the words that differ, explains the specialist translator: “There are also clear variations in spelling. In Portugal, the word for a metro – ‘o metro’ – does not have an accent , but its Brazilan equivalent – ‘o metrô’ – does.

Other cultures, other concepts of language

The differences are in fact so substantial that they would never fit in a dictionary. Professional translators need profound knowledge and understanding to build linguistic bridges between the continents: “Each text must be adapted precisely to suit the region for which it is intended”, Robitsch explains. “In Brazil, for instance, some concepts such as maintenance grants or educational leave simply do not exist, and this is particularly true within the social system. A non-professional would probably be stumped quite quickly.”

Where German is short – Portuguese is long

Non-professionals would also have difficulties dealing with the different lengths of text. “Portuguese is far wordier than German, and so it is particularly important to consider this aspect when translating presentations and similar texts with a set length”, the professional translator adds. The main reason here is that compound words that are common in German require precise but more convoluted phrasing in Portuguese: ‘Qualitätskontrollmanagement’ (quality control management), for instance, becomes ‘gestão de controlo de qualidade’; ‘Klimaanlage’ (air conditioning) is ‘instalação de ar condicionado’; and ‘Emissionshandel’ (emissions trading) translates as ‘comércio de licenças de emissão’.

“The compound words that are common in German require precise but more convoluted phrasing in Portuguese.”
Sandra Robitsch

Interpreters needed for Brazilians living in Germany

Whether it’s large companies with branches in Brazil or centers of tourism in Portugal: There is plenty of demand for professional translators – in an amazing variety of areas. Moreover, there is substantial need for translations of certificates and documents required by government agencies, for marriages and similar occasions. Then come the interpreting jobs for the numerous Brazilians living in Germany and Austria.

Different degrees of familiarity

Whether running official errands or translating advertising materials for customers, it is essential to bear in mind what is considered polite – or otherwise – in the various language areas. “The ways in which people address each other in Portugal and Brazil differ substantially”, explains Robitsch. “So you always have to remember which audience you are writing for when translating into Portuguese.” Take the informal German address ‘Du’ (you), for instance: Brazilians exclusively use the personal pronoun ‘você’, while the Portuguese say ‘tu’. Brazilians can also use ‘você’’ as a polite form to address even people outside of their circle of acquaintances. But that does not apply to ‘tu’ in Portugal: Here, the only acceptably polite address would be ‘o senhor’ or ‘o senhora’.

Back to the formal address

In contrast, professional translators preparing German texts need to pay attention to the frequently more informal style of address that is used in Portugal. “Although the source text may stick to the informal style, it will be necessary to use the formal German address ‘Sie’ in the translation. This will adapt the style to the customs of the language area”, says Robitsch. Visitors to Portuguese websites, for instance, are likely to find that the texts will use an informal style of address. “But it is unusual to encounter websites in Germany that address their customers informally. It would be considered impolite to use the ‘Du’ form in reference to strangers”, says the translation professional.

Sandra Robitsch

Professional Translator

Sandra Robitsch is a qualified translator for for Portuguese, Spanish and other languages, and has five years of professional experience under her belt.

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