Translating English into English in Brazil for Fun and Profit

I once spent a 15 hour day getting paid to translate English into English in Sao Paulo Brazil. Or to be more accurate, I was translating Manchester English into American English for the benefit of a Brazilian audience.

It was fun but exhausting. I am an American consultant and was in Sao Paulo to help an English company buy a Brazilian factory. I don’t speak Portuguese and neither did the English team. Theoretically, that should not have been a problem, since all of the Brazilians at the meeting were fluent in English. The problem was that the people from the English company were all from Manchester, with accents that made Austin Powers sound like he was a reporter for the BBC.

Austin Powers speaks "Manchester" not "American

Austin Powers speaks “Manchester” not “American”

I arrived first, and was drinking coffee with the Brazilian bankers when the group from Manchester arrived. Nat, the leader of the Manchester team, stood at the front of the conference table and began his introductory speech. He was five minutes into his prepared remarks when one of the Brazilian bankers turned to me and asked, “What language is that man speaking?”

Sao Paulo Brazil - a modern business city

Sao Paulo Brazil – a modern business city

It soon became obvious that none of the Brazilians could understand anything Nat was saying. It was also obvious that Nat was furious about this. He had been brought up in working class semi-poverty in Manchester, and had risen through the ranks to become a self-made successful business owner. However, he was very self-conscious about his upbringing and lack of education. He thought the Brazilians could understand him, but were just making fun of the way he spoke.

Manchester England

Manchester England

I was able to calm Nat down and convince him not to let the whole deal fall apart due to a language problem. So for next 15 hours, Nat and his team would speak in Manchester English and I would repeat the words in American English for the benefit of the Brazilians. Luckily, I did not have to translate in the other direction. The Brazilians spoke English with the straight BBC type accents they had learned in school, and the people from Manchester could understand them perfectly.

Working class Manchester

Working class Manchester

As the meeting dragged on, the Manchester folks decided it would be fun to test how well I really could understand Northern English accents. They started speaking faster and faster and using more and more slang, trying to see if I would get “my Y-fronts in a twist.”  I had spent a lot of time working in Manchester and at first could not be fooled. Finally, they were able to stump me when one of their team,a young woman from Burnley,  spoke so fast and  turned on her her slang full tilt until  I had to admit I could not understand a word of that she had said.

George Bernard Shaw's opinion of the English and American languages

George Bernard Shaw’s opinion of the English and American languages

The conference turned out to be a success and Nat bought the Brazilian factory. It has its own local Brazilian management, so the language issue going forward is not going to be a problem. The papers were signed, everyone was happy. As they say in Manchester, and Bob’s your Uncle.”

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