A Proper Translation of Miss Colombia’s Final Answer

I was channel flipping this weekend and happened to come across the Miss Universe pageant. I kept watching when I saw that Miss Japan had made it pretty far and hoped she would go further. Alas, she didn’t win the crown, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I don’t think Miss Colombia should be given the crown simply because she initially received it by mistake. Miss Philippines won and that’s that. However, I do think it’s unfair that English-only viewers didn’t get to hear what Miss Colombia actually said in response to why she should be Miss Universe.

Below I have transcribed what she said and what the interpreter said, going off of this video, with notes from me in italics.

Miss Colombia: Yo estoy segura que debo ser la segunda—la tercera Miss Universo para mi pais Colombia–
Interpreter: I am positive that I should be the third Miss Universe for my country Colombia…

Here the interpreter chose to omit when Miss Colombia accidentally said “second” instead of “third”. In this particular situation I think it would have been fair to leave the hiccup in. After all, Miss USA couldn’t hide her mistake of saying “mext” instead of “next”, and it shows Miss Colombia’s level of knowledge of Miss Universe history.

Miss Colombia:
Porque tengo todas las capacidades de la mujer latino-americana–
Interpreter: Because I have all of the attributes that a Latin woman has…

“Attributes” isn’t the same thing as “capabilities,” which is what Miss Colombia said. “Capacities” would have also been a fair translation, though I think that sounds a wee bit unnatural in modern American English.

“A Latin woman” would be “una mujer latina,” an indefinite singular noun. “La mujer latina” is a singular collective noun which would be more accurately translated as a plural in English, “Latin women.”

I can understand choosing to say Latin instead of Latin-American, because to an English-speaking audience “Latin American” probably means “Latin-of the United States,” whereas in Latin America people don’t think of the word “America” as something the United States OF America has a monopoly on.

Miss Colombia:
La sensatez y el conocimiento que uno debe tener en las situaciones que una Miss Universo presenta en el mundo.
Interpreter: I am a woman who is full of feeling and have the attributes that a woman should have in Colombia.

“Sensatez” does NOT mean “feeling,” it means “good judgment” to put it simply, or, as the Diccionario General de la Lengua Española Vox that came with my computer puts it, “Cualidad que tienen las personas que muestran buen juicio, prudencia y madurez en sus actos y decisiones” meaning “The quality possessed by people who show good judgment, prudence, and maturity in their actions and decisions.” This is a pretty basic word, too, certainly one that I would expect an interpreter who could land a huge gig like this to know. Anyone who grew up with Spanish-speaking parents or who has watched a few telenovelas has surely seen one person accuse another of not having any sensatez.

Furthermore, as the interpreter had been cutting Miss Colombia off and apparently forgotten what she herself had said before, she threw in an extra “I am woman who~” rather than saying “Such as~” in reference to the “feelings and attributes” mentioned earlier (wrong though that translation was).

Lastly, by saying that these attributes are things that a woman should have “in Colombia” rather than “in the world” which is what Miss Colombia actually said, the interpreter made Miss Colombia seem as if she lacked consciousness of the world stage.

Miss Colombia: …Que Miss Universo enfrenta en sus eventos.
Interpreter: And that Miss Universe should have for all her events.

Miss Colombia understood that the interpreter had messed up and reworded the last part of her answer to get the interpreter to say it again.

To put it all together properly, here is what Miss Colombia really said:

I’m sure that I should be the second—the third Miss Universe from my country, Colombia, because I have all the capabilities of Latin American women, and the judgment and knowledge that one should have in the situations Miss Universe hosts around the world. …That Miss Universe is faced with at all of her events.

Versus what the interpreter had her say:

I’m positive that I should be the third Miss Universe for my country, Colombia, because I have all of the attributes that a Latin woman has. I am a woman who is full of feeling and have the attributes that a woman should have in Colombia. …And that Miss Universe should have for all of her events.

Again, Miss Colombia wouldn’t even have needed to say the last sentence fragment had it not been for the interpreter’s mistake. I bet this confused Spanish-only viewers who didn’t realize why Miss Colombia was suddenly tacking on this half-thought to her answer.

Personally, I don’t think Miss Colombia’s answer is much better than that given by Miss USA or Miss Philippines (I thought all three answers were generic, to be honest), but I do think it’s a much better answer than what the interpreter made it out to be. I mean come on, who says “I am a woman who is full of feeling”?! No one! And not Miss Colombia!

If I remember correctly, contestants had time limits for their answers. Short ones at that, so there was no reason for the interpreters to interrupt contestants mid-answer or worse, mid-sentence. For one, unless the event organizers were stopping the clock for the interpretation (and maybe they were, I don’t know), it puts every contestant using an interpreter at a disadvantage because then they can only use about half of their time to actually answer, whereas someone who is speaking in English can use all of their time for themselves. But okay, let’s say the organizers were stopping the clock. Why do all that? Why have to mess around with multiple stops when you can just give the contestants their time and then have the interpreter interpret? Not only would this be better for contestants as they’d be able to give more flowing answers, it would give the interpreter more time to put together an accurate translation. Of course, the interpreter should have a notepad along with an excellent memory. Whether they write down what was said or their translation of it is up to them but they should definitely be taking notes.

My interpretation experience isn’t as vast as my experience translating text, but even so I know that an interpreter must speak to the person they’ll be interpreting for beforehand to decide on a translation pattern, and even on a signal that the interpreter will use should the speaker start rambling without giving the interpreter a chance to translate (which will always happen at least once, especially with people who aren’t used to working with an interpreter or when the conversation gets heated). Miss Colombia looked like she was not expecting to be cut off mid-sentence, meaning such agreements were not put in place in advance. This may have been the pageant organizers’ fault. I certainly don’t think Miss Colombia was particularly rude to the interpreter considering how the interpreter kept cutting her off.

I’ve heard from professional interpreters that there are usually two interpreters working together at big events, so I do hope that there was another interpreter behind the scenes who gave the judges a more accurate translation of Miss Colombia’s answer. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but better to be judged for your own answer than for another’s poor translation.