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    5 Tips for Translating English to Spanish

    December 11, 2018

December 11, 2018

5 Tips for Translating English to Spanish

With over 421 million Spanish speakers throughout the world, Spanish has quickly become the third most used language on the planet. It is also the official language for 22 countries and comes in a wide variety of types and dialects.

When it comes to the Spanish language, it derives from Italian and Portuguese and can be pretty different from the Anglo-Saxon derived English we speak in the United States. The two very different styles these languages were born from can make translating from one to the other a bit tricky.

And with the huge influx of Spanish speaking Americans, getting your content  (whether it’s a website, app, marketing campaign, or employee manual) translated is important. When translating English to Spanish, there are a handful of tips you’ll want to follow to ensure your content is not just understood but relatable to your target audience.

1. Understand Cultural Differences

Don’t just scroll past this, cultural differences are probably mentioned in every single resource you can find on translations. But when it comes to Spanish there are some big cultural differences you want to pay attention to.

In English, if you want to express formality, you use a more formal title to address someone and avoid using slang terms. But in the Spanish language, they have formal pronouns you would use.

Certain regions and dialects also have their version of the southern ‘y’all where it is common and accepted to use regularly.

2. Spanish is a Long Language

Sentence structure can vary quite a bit in Spanish. This allows for more flexibility, but also creates 30% longer sentences than their English versions.

This is important for a few reasons, but the biggest is design. If your advertisement is a set size, your one line English header might not fit once translated into a two-line Spanish headline. If you have any digital materials being translated this will affect the layout and design.

The flexibility in sentence structure is also important to keep in mind. In English, the sentence structure we use most often looks something like this:

Subject – Verb – Object

‘Bob opens the book.’ But in the Spanish language, this order can be moved around to better emphasize the subject. This would look something like ‘Abre el libro Bob’ which translates as ‘open the book Bob,’ something we would never say in English.

Simply doing a word for word translation won’t always give you the same meaning. You’ll want to pay attention to what you’re trying to emphasize and recognize there might be a different word order to use when translating.

3. Spanish Pronouns & Verb Tense

Indicating tense and identifying a pronoun is done a little differently in Spanish languages than in English. Pronouns have different suffixes that get added to the end of the verb to indicate which pronoun you are using. Verb tense is also a suffix that gets added to the end of the verb.

Back to our example with Bob. Open,  like ‘open a book’ would be ‘abierto’ but when Bob opens it, it switches to ‘abre’ and when Bob later tells his coworker ‘I open the book’ it becomes ‘abro.’ Switching it to a past tense ‘I opened’ the verb become ‘abrió.

4. Gender Words

Spanish nouns are assigned a gender, an unfamiliar concept to many native English speakers. In English, we would refer to a “book” as simply that. In Spanish, there is an indicating article (‘el’ or ‘la’ and corresponding ‘o’ and ‘a’ at the end of the noun to give it a gender. Book, for example, is ‘el libro’ whereas library is ‘la biblioteca.’

Being aware of which words are masculine and feminine is important to producing a properly translated document.  And just because an item of clothing is worn by a woman (like a bikini) doesn’t mean it will have a feminine article. 

5. Consider the Meaning of The Statement

As mentioned earlier, it is important to look at the entire sentence or paragraph when translating. Often a direct word for word translation will result in a muddied message.

There are some words, in any language, that just don’t have a translatable equivalent. When you are translating word by word, you will miss this contextual error. But when translating the entire meaning of the sentence, you will have more freedom to adjust words and sentence structure to make sure your meaning is conveyed properly.

It Isn’t Always As Easy As Google Translate

Translating larger texts, apps, websites and many other large-scale projects often require trained professional translators. Those who understand both languages and the cultural nuances within the foreign language will be able to provide you with a final product that resonates with your foreign language audience. If you are having trouble with your English to Spanish translation, give us a call today.

  • Aberto Carlos, March 12, 2019 Reply

    I would really like to thank you for sharing such amazing content with. The most informative point in the content is "Consider the Meaning of The Statement". This is the most important thing that a translator should keep in mind before translating in different languages.

    • Darren Jansen, March 14, 2019 Reply

      Hi Alberto, Absolutely! Word-by-word is sure to get the translator in trouble. Thanks for dropping by!

  • james norton, March 18, 2019 Reply

    I would really like to thank you for sharing this amazing content with us. The most informative point in the content is "Understand Cultural Differences". According to me, as Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world, so one should understand the Spanish culture.

    • Darren Jansen, March 21, 2019 Reply

      Sure! Thanks for reading! Culture can make a big difference. An example I can think of is that there are many cultures in which you need to use the honorific tone if you are talking to customers or people older than you. Doing it the wrong way, can leave bad impressions.

  • Lucy Kent, March 25, 2019 Reply

    Great article, Thanks a lot for sharing such a kind of informative article. these tips will help me so much!!!

    • Darren Jansen, March 25, 2019 Reply

      Thanks for visiting! Looks like you are with an India-based translation company. It's good to know about TriIndia. Best wishes for your work and growth!

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