A good translation is like a good lawyer; it costs more but it's worth the money
As a foreigner living in Bulgaria you will start speaking Bulgarian sooner or later, so you can order a beer in the pub, buy bread and eggs, or speak to the neighbours.
Until you do, you will come to appreciate your English–speaking friends who do not mind translating the weekly shopping list or helping out when you need to go to the local council, the police station, the hairdresser's or the doctor's, or when the bathroom needs fixing. But, no matter how helpful they might be, or how well you speak Bulgarian, there are cases when you should leave translation to a professional.
Sooner or later you will come to the typically Balkan sexist realisation that good translation is like a woman: if it's beautiful, it's not faithful, and vice versa. Although using a combination of a few Bulgarian words, English phrases and vigourous gesticulation may be sufficient for day–to–day communication – especially important in rural areas, where fewer Bulgarians speak English – finding a good translator is a daunting task. Anyone who has tried to get a translation of an English title deed or a highschool diploma – or the lyrics of a song on the radio – would readily testify to that.
While you may be confident in your own abilities and the help of your friends when it comes to mundane matters like shopping and train timetables, reliance on that alone is potentially dangerous where official documents are concerned. It is only common sense to leave business matters to the professionals.
How does this work in practice? Much the same as when it comes to finding a doctor, a builder or a lawyer, word–of–mouth is often best. Ask colleagues, friends and other expats to recommend someone, or you can benefit from the experiences people share on Internet forums, even though you should never rely on the chat alone.
Recommendations are important not just because they save time and effort but because, unlike selecting a lawyer based on their membership of the College of Barristers, translation agencies in Bulgaria are unregulated. More than 3,000 of them have been registered to date, both local and international companies. They offer services ranging from English–speaking tourist guides to translating technical, scientific and legal documents. Some companies have websites, and can do translations remotely through the Internet, weekdays and weekends alike.
Your choice will naturally depend on basic considerations like whether the company operates in your area, if you need oral translation, or whether you need something in a less common language like Japanese or Hebrew.
The Union of Bulgarian Translators is one option. Its advantages are fairly obvious: it is staffed by trained professionals, has branches all over the country and can handle 46 languages. According to chairperson Mariya Petkova, the employees do not just happen to speak another language, but they are highly experienced. The organisation has its own code of ethics and statutes, which guarantee a quality service.
Prices are normally lower than those in Western Europe and depend on several factors, including source language, target language, the type and volume of text, quantity and deadline. In general, you should be paying between 10 and 25 leva a page. Most reputable agencies include proofreading.
As with most other things, lower prices mean inferior quality. To cut overheads, some agencies employ amateurs or students. Their mistakes, caused by ignorance or lack of experience, will later cost you time and money.
Should your documents need to be legal, translations can only be done by a company registered with the Consular Department of the Foreign Ministry. These agencies also provide the necessary certification from other institutions and foreign embassies.
Another peculiar feature in Bulgaria is that certified practitioners can legally verify documents in court without having to prove their translation skills. This only goes to show that you should choose carefully.
As with any other business matter, you should stick to the usual rules when signing a contract. Familiarise yourself with the terms, ask for a copy of the document in your native language, and read the fine print.
If you need to promote a product or a website in Bulgaria, seek the help of professionals. International companies specialising in localisation services fill this niche in Bulgaria.
It is also best to leave oral translations to professionals, except when it comes to the weekend shopping or taking your dog to the vet. In business discussions they will convey your meaning clearly and concisely. And they will definitely be able to translate the lyrics of that song on the radio.
Govorite li ... Bulgrish?
Translating Bulgarian to English can be a tricky, if not impossible, task, in everything from small talk to expressing cultural differences. Bulgarians tend to think that anyone who speaks rudimentary English, or is just starting to learn it at highschool, should be able to do everything from asking the time, to translating legal documents and manuals for electrical appliances.
The misunderstandings that inevitably occur – sometimes referred to as Bulgrish – have long proven a source of amusement to English speakers. The classic bloopers turn up in restaurant menus with their attempts at enticing descriptions of the food, often with hilarious results. Of course the laughter dies when it comes to mangling the lingo in more serious matters like discussing business, understanding contracts, or explaining that "That's Spasovden for you, young bride!" really means surprise at the way events have turned out. Here is a list of what you can – and most probably have – come across when proper translation by a proficient speaker or a professional translator has been thought superfluous. By the way, found in translation is not a one–way street: equally amusing mistranslations happen when you go from English into Bulgarian. Isn't it made of iron? Sorry, I meant isn't it ironic?
How much is the clock? – What time is it?
What's the watch? – What time is it?
Such much! – It's too expensive! or It's too late!
If I only had little more weather – If I only had some more time
Where are you loosing yourself? – Where have you been?
Would you translate me on the other page of the street? – Would you help me cross the street?
You can calculate on me – You can count on me
Let's play tickets – Let's play cards
Lubricated behaviour – Slimy behaviour
Without behind intentions – No hidden agenda
Stop looking during the window – Stop looking through the window
Let fun be – I'm only joking
Big work – Take it easy, chill out
Regards for your wife – Give my best to your wife
Everything is beautiful! – All the best!
Eggs on eye – Poached eggs
Calf language – Veal's tongue
Harvester's bundle – A salad
Salmon on a junk boat –A salmon steak
Meatballs in gypsy gravy – Meatballs in tomato sauce
Pig spit – Pork on a skewer
Chicken mouthful – Chicken nuggets
He laughs under moustache – He chuckles
She turned his brain around – She's made him lose his head
In the circle of the joke – Cracking a joke
I'm not from yesterday – I wasn't born yesterday
Your grandmother's bushes – Old wives' tales