Not a single day goes by that I don't receive an email, tweet, Facebook comment or web link that isn't written in Spanish. But after living here three plus years, studying Rosetta Stone (on and off) and making tons of embarrassing mistakes talking to the locals, my Spanish is getting better, almost passable by some standards. But at least one time every day, something happens where I need to be able to speak instant Spanish. This is where Google Translator comes to the rescue.
As you begin to do your research into Costa Rica, you will find that many informative websites are written completely in Spanish. When I first began paying my bills online, my Bank's website (Banco Nacional) was completely Spanish. However, through Google Chrome (Google's browser), I was able to "auto-magically" transform a huge portion of the Bank's content from Spanish into English.
Some sections of a website cannot be translated and that is generally a result of the programmer utilizing special programming tools to create that portion of the content. The great thing about using Google Chrome is that all this translation is done in the background. You don't need to do anything but read the content.
A few weeks ago my insurance agent sent me a document confirming the purchase of my new auto insurance policy. The Word document was written completely in Spanish and while I knew many of the words, I was not able to assemble it (in my head) into something meaningful. I was able to import the file into Google Translate and it did a reasonable job converting the document from Spanish to English. Now for a word of advice... THESE THIRD PART TOOLS SHOULD NOT BE USED TO PERFORM LEGALLY BINDING TRANSLATIONS. They are good enough to give you an idea of what is being said but not good enough to stand up to the rigors of a court of law.
To translate a document, use the Browse Button (see below) and locate the desired file. Click OK and the document will automatically load into the translator. This works very well for all ASCII text documents, Word documents and even Adobe Acrobat PDF files. Once you BROWSE and FIND the file you need, click the blue Translate button.
CONVERSING WITH HUMANS
The real challenge is chatting with humans in real time. I know it is not practical to carry a computer with you all the time, so eventually you just need to learn to speak some sort of survival Spanish. However, for those times you have access to a computer, why not plan ahead and do your translations in advance.
Here is one example. The other day Fran needed to make an appointment with a doctor. While the doctor's English is quite good, the receptionist's skills are not. Knowing this, Fran went into Google Translate and typed out her question in English. As she is typing in English, Google is performing an instant translation.
Before starting the conversation with the receptionist, Fran says "Por favor discúlpeme, yo hablo muy poco español" which means Please excuse me, I speak very little Spanish. Fran has memorized this phrase and uses it when ever she is going to be entering into a challenging situation. It immediately sets the expectations of the person with whom she is communicating to (hopefully) be more tolerant of her Spanish skills. Now all she has to do is read from the computer screen and ask her question. SEE BELOW.
But wait... now the receptionist starts to rattle off at 200 miles per hour something about the doctors schedule. Fran's only recourse is to slow the receptionist down. She then uses another (memorized) phrase.. "Por favor, hable más despacio" - Please speak slower. Eventually there was a meeting of the minds and Fran got her doctor's appointment.
Last month, I needed to go to the bank and request the Bank's manager to write a letter on my behalf to Costa Rica Immigration stating that I met all the necessary requirements in order to renew my Cedula. Not knowing if the "el Gerente" - the Manager spoke any English, I entered my entire request into Google Translate, copied the translation into Word and printed out request in almost perfect Spanish. When I got to the bank, I met the Manager and was able to eek out a few pleasantries in Español. He politely responded. But then I got in over my head so I handed him the request I printed out. After reading the letter, he put it down on his desk, look at me and said, "That will not be a problem Mister Browne. I will have it for you in 10 minutes. All you need do is pay the teller $10."
The moral to the story is, you never know the language skills of the person with whom you are going to interact. But I was prepared whether he spoke only Spanish, or in this case, perfect King's English.
I have even used Google Translate with a repairman who came to my house to fix our air conditioner. He was trying to explain something to me about why he was not able to fix it today but beyond that, I was lost. So I brought out my laptop, launched Google Translate and typed (in English) the following statement... "" From there he read... "Por favor, escribe lo que quiere decir que en mi equipo y que se traduzca en Inglés para mí." What I learned was that the unit needed a new motherboard which had to be ordered from San Jose. It would be here is 3-4 days. How cool was that!
When you click on the little speaker icons in the translation interface, Google Translate even speaks to you. Give it a try. LISTEN