Researching in another language…

Having recently received a sheaf of letters from an archives in South America – all written in Spanish – I was faced with important, but unreadable research. Growing up with English as my primary language, I had also studied French in school (like any good Canadian), but had not required any other languages. With English and some French, I had successfully navigated around Quebec and Europe, and I found that simply pronouncing German signs usually produced an understanding of their meaning.  However, never having been to Iberia, I had not embarked on Spanish. So, with the subject of my next biography having spent some time in South America – time critical to his story – I had to break that barrier.

With the sheaf of unreadable letters on my desk, the work of translation had to begin! Fortunately, Spanish is one of the “Romance languages”, and has some similarities to French, and even English. Translating the letters led to a further level of difficulty when the letters turned out to be mostly of a technical nature, and included 140 year-old jargon. But the meanings slowly revealed themselves, and another piece of the intriguing puzzle that was my subject’s life started falling into place.