Saturday, August 11, 2012

August is Awesome Because of Al Diaz

I met Al via the Yahoo Fantasy Writing group.  We've exchanged critiques and ideas on our works in process, offering each other suggestions, encouragement and more than a few laughs. 

Al is one awesome dragon, writing a novel in English even though Spanish is Al's native (and primary) tongue!  And I thought the struggles that I, a born-and-raised American, endured writing a novel in English were tough!

A lot of talent and creativity resides within Al, so give this awesome dragon an awesome welcome!

"Ken Lee"


Al Diaz

The lyrics to this song may ring a bell for all those lovers of YouTube. If you’re not familiar with it, you just need to type the name and you’ll be able to enjoy this piece of creativity. Anyway, the singer presumes Ken Lee is English.  Well, this is Ken Lee’s English with its reference in the “other” English. (Bummer, how many English are there in this world?)

Lyrics as Sang (True English Lyrics)
No one ken to ken to sivmen (No, I can’t forget this evening)
Nor yon clees toju maliveeh (Or your face as you were leaving)
When I gez aju zavateh na nalechoo more (When I had you there but then I let you go)
New yonooz tonight molinigh (You always smile but in your eyes)
Yon sorrah shoo, yes, ee shoo (Your sorrow shows, yes it shows)
Ken Lee (Can’t live)
Tulibu dibu douchoo (If living is without you)
Ken Lee (Can’t live)
Ken lee meju more (I can’t give any more)

As much as this song has made me laugh real hard, I must confess in my youth I used to sing my “Ken Lee” versions of my favorite songs. I could nearly bet my left shoe that all those for whom English is not our mother language have started with “Ken Lee” singing attempts.

Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire” for example.  Our “Ken Lee” version was;
“Harrison and drum spring. Make Shon and Jhonny away. Sun besin the pot and wishes. Shon Jumanji Oh.”

Corresponding to the “other” English version of:
“Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray. South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio.”

Yes, you can laugh at us too. My mother language is Spanish. Back in my youth I wished I could understand at least half of what my favorite songs said, though. I learned English along with my career. By the end I could manage a simple conversation and I could write a business letter in English, from Dear Sirs to Yours Very Truly.  However, if this conversation went any bit deeper than the status of your order, messages and directions, I could be in deep trouble. God forbids if I’ve got to talk with an actual English speaking person. I could well speak Apache then, or my fingers suddenly became clumsy. After cutting the communication “by accident”, I would hide under my desk with a Mr. Bean kind of expression and hope no one would have noticed that.

It was more than evident English and I didn’t get along well. It was ok by me. Who needs English anyway when all good movies have subtitles and Internet was a only a subject good for Sci-Fi? But fates  had other plans and for circumstances out of my control I couldn’t find a job related to my career. I had English, though. Somebody suggested I should offer translation services. (But of course! Why didn’t I think about it before?)

Only those who work in the translation business can tell that knowing a language and translating to that language and back to your own are not necessarily related.  Actually they are not. I have found wonderful English teachers that really suck at translation and excellent translators that cannot remember one single grammar rule under penalty of death. But hey! I was not nearly an English teacher, so I felt safe enough to try in the translation business. Now that was not a proof of my common sense but sure as hell I proved some chutzpah. I still don’t know how it was that I managed to survive in the translation world without someone to just kick my butt out.  A reason could be that those who were up to try it would have to first find me under piles and piles of dictionaries. Engineering, medical, legal and business dictionaries shaped my fortress. I learned translation along the road out of a need to earn my living and thus the need to make people believe I knew what I was doing, (or in this case, speaking.) I came to be pretty good at it after a couple of years but it needed time and hard work.

I have always loved to write stories. I wrote them in Spanish of course. One day it occurred to me I should write stories in English to further improve my knowledge of the language. Now if I could translate how a scrapper for offshore oil byproduct pipelines worked, or better, translate a whole lawsuit from Spanish to English, writing a story was like child’s play. (Yeah, keep dreaming.)

It was quite a shock to feel I didn’t know any English at all….yet again.  I didn’t know words as common as sigh, scoop, grin, smirk, hut. (Can you hear it? The curse to deaf  Heaven?) Yes. "How many times will I have to learn English, for crying out loud?"

I was overwhelmed by this sense of déjà vu and this time I could not shrug it off. Who needs English? Well, just surf the Internet and you’ll find who needs English. If I wanted more people to be able to read my stories, I had to learn that sort of English. I’m still learning, but I can tell you it has come to be very gratifying. I am proud of my efforts and my level of English. I have not mastered it yet, but it’s way above the “Ken Lee” English with which I started several years ago. The best part is that it didn’t cost me nearly the amounts of money one may guess. My English boost came 99% from writing stories and role playing with English speaking fellows that have become also dearest friends.

This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on “Ken Lee”. Now I sing “Ken Lee” versions of Japanese, Indian, Portuguese and Italian songs. “Ken Lee” is still fun for me but now I know one thing for sure. Learning another language is not matter of money. It’s matter of determination, time and effort.

Al Diaz is awesome!
About Al Diaz

I work as an English-Spanish translator. I also write small articles for a monthly magazine for Risaterapia, an organization of hospital clown volunteers. I have an harem of muses and when I am not writing, I am painting, sculpting with clay or papier mache, doing 3D origami, making puppets (and muppets) training dogs, creating vegetarian recipes for people with gastrointestinal disorders, dancing, practicing PNL or reading about all the above.

Al blogs at Imaginar es crear
Connect with Al on Twitter too:


  1. I love the dragon picture!

    What a great story. Necessity does seem to be the great driver. I doubt I'd learn another language unless I needed to. I know several people who like to write their novels in English, even when they don't speak it as their first language, so that they can improve their language skills. I can't imagine writing in another language so you have my admiration Al!

    1. Thanks Imogen. Here an interesting fact. When you learn a foreign language, you also get to learn a bit (or much) of a culture's essence, like customs and way of thinking. A lot of personality as well. I feel like discovering a new world altogether. :)

  2. I ran into a lady (another writer) a few months ago who is writing a story in English using a translation program.

    She wrote very well, but WOW. I never expected to meet another. It reminds me of the "hello statue" in a story my Dad used to tell about a new immigrant--the "hello statue" is the thing you pick up to talk to someone and say "Hello, 's tat you?"

    Good luck!

    1. Translation programs got me in so much trouble I have a grudge at them. :) But I am sure there must be many more writers out there making their best attempts with different languages. Thanks for reading, Lauren.

  3. Misheard lyrics are a goldmine of comedy, though some singers seem to go out of their way to be incomprehensible.

    Without you = Withow Choo

    I speak a small amount of German and what would seem to be an obvious translation can land you in a terrible mess. Ich bin Heisse translates as I am hot, but means 'I have the hots for you, lets go to bed'.

    1. Yeah. :) Never tell a German you want to be friends. :) I know just enough German to get myself in trouble, but not enough to get out again.


    2. My teacher used to called those "False friends" and I have ran into many in my life. A couple of them in the middle of important meetings between Mexican and Canadian Managers and Senior Executives, me as the translator. *shudders* Still have nightmares with those.

  4. The "Ken Lee" got me laughing. great post.

    1. I laugh out hard each time I see it. Can't help it. :D Thanks for reading.

  5. I'm studying Spanish, and sometimes I want to hide under my desk too. I haven't tried writing stories in Spanish, but it seems like a good idea.

    Estoy estudiando español, y, algunas veces, quiero esconderme debajo de mi escritorio también. Nunca he tratado de escribir cuentos en español, pero me parece una buena idea.