Translating English to Spanish is one of the most common and important translation activities in the Americas and around the world. With over 450 million native Spanish speakers on the planet and just short of 180 million people speaking it as a foreign language, Spanish ranks as the second most used language on the planet after Mandarin.
It is also the official language for 22 countries and comes in a wide variety of accents and dialects. With English being the language of global communication (Did you know that it’s the number one language of the web?), it’s only natural that English to Spanish translation is one of the most requested services in the translation industry.
Get a Free Translation Tool
Tired of searching online every time you need free machine translations?
Get your own copy of our tool—the Free Google Sheets Translation Template—to translate English to Spanish and dozens of other languages.Get Your Free Tool Now!
The reasons why someone might decide to translate their documents can be varied. From a marketing perspective, for example, as business owners realize that the most successful marketing strategies involve the creation and distribution of impactful content, the appropriate localization of such content into other languages is the next logical step if they are looking to reach global markets.
From a cultural perspective, to name another scenario, multicultural teams have become the norm within many workplaces, which calls for English to Spanish translators in order to make information accessible to all.
Whatever the reasons motivating someone to hire translation services, English to Spanish translation, in particular, makes it necessary to consider the 5 key tips outlined below:
Tips for Translation from English to Spanish
- Understand and Adapt to Cultural Differences
- Anticipate that Spanish is Longer than English
- Beware of the Ambiguity that Language-Specific Grammatical Features Can Cause
- Decide on the Use of Gendered Words
- Choose the Right Dialect for Your Translations
Need to Translate English to Spanish (or vice versa)?
Click the button below to get a free quote today.
Get a Free Translation Quote
1. Understand and Adapt to Cultural Differences
Don’t just scroll past this, cultural differences are probably mentioned in every single resource you can find on translations. But there are some big cultural differences to which every English to Spanish translator must pay attention.
A common example is the difference in directness between Spanish-speaking communities and English speaking-communities. Following anthropologist Edward Hall’s theory, some cultures prefer more direct messages and a great deal of explicit information defined in the text rather than subtle or implicit cues. This is the case of “low-context” or explicit cultures, such as the United States.
By contrast, other cultures—like those where Roman languages are spoken—communicate a lot more between the lines. When you are translating between English and Spanish, therefore, cultural differences such as this one need to be taken into account . . . if you want to produce culturally appropriate translations, that is.
Otherwise, you may risk the target audience perceiving the tone of the translated text in a way that’s different to what you intended. If the target audience are Spanish speakers, for example, and the translation is too literal and does not lower the directness level of the source language (English), they may perceive the tone of the text as too condescending or patronizing.
Go to top
2. Anticipate that Spanish is Longer than English
English has a higher grammatical density than Spanish, which means that a lot more information is condensed in fewer syllables when you compare it to Spanish. This, in turn, means that you need about 25 % more space in Spanish to transmit the same message originally written in English.
For example, a 500-word text written in English will probably end up being about 630 words in Spanish.
This is important for a few reasons, but the biggest is design and character limitation. On your website or app, for example, you will likely need to allow more characters and space for headers, call-to-action buttons, etc. if you want them translated into Spanish. Otherwise, they might not fit.
Need to Translate Your Website?
Read how to do it here: 5 Steps of Website Localization
The most direct implication of this length and density difference between English and Spanish is that localization should be part of the product design rather than an afterthought. In other words, anticipating this issue will save website and app owners time and money compared to having to fix the layout at the time of uploading the translated text to the final user interface.
Go to top
3. Beware of the Ambiguity that Language-Specific Grammatical Features Can Cause
Pro-drop refers to when some languages are able to omit subject pronouns. A language can be pro-drop (as is the case of Spanish), partially pro-drop (like Brazilian Portuguese), or non-pro-drop (like English). Pro-drop languages allow for pronoun omission when the semantic subject can be contextually inferred. In other words, when the subject can be inferred, you don’t need to make it explicit.
In Spanish, therefore, you can say “cocino” (I cook) instead of “yo cocino”, because the conjugated verb “cocino” encodes the subject.
While this is no problem when translating from English into Spanish, it may cause ambiguity when translating in the reverse direction—translating from Spanish to English—with little context. This is because some verb inflections in Spanish are the same for more than one grammatical subject.
Therefore, correctly inferring the subject of the sentence when there is little context available involves a high degree of cognitive effort and even making assumptions. The sentence “Cocina por la noche”, for example, might be translated into English as “he cooks at night”, “she cooks at night”, “you should cook at night”, etc.
From this, you can probably anticipate how big an issue this is when you use machine translation output that hasn’t been edited by a human translator: how do you know the machine got the subject right?
Need to Translate Into Spanish?Get a Free Quote
4. When You Translate English to Spanish, Decide on the Use of Spanish Gendered Words
Spanish nouns have genders, an unfamiliar concept to many native English speakers. In English, a “book” is perceived as neither masculine nor feminine. In Spanish, nouns are gendered and there is an indicating article (“el” or “la”) to reflect this. “Book,” for example, is “el libro” (masculine) whereas library is “la biblioteca” (feminine).
When it comes to naming an individual animate noun whose gender we do not know, the unmarked (or “default”) gender in Spanish is the masculine (interpreted as including male and female).
“The user,” therefore, will likely be translated as “el usuario” (masculine form) but will mean all users whether male or female. While this has been the case for many centuries, a lot of brands have started avoiding gendered words whenever possible to come across as inclusive of all gender identities and sexes.
There is no consensus about this practice and it’s a matter that usually raises controversy, but it is important to mention it because several reputable institutions have published guidelines to avoid or work around sexism in language.
Are You a Professional Translator?
Check out our massive list of professional translation tools here: The Massive List of 100+ Professional Tools for Translators
5. Choose the Right Dialect for Your Translations
There are several regional differences between Spanish dialects across the globe. And although they are not as great as to cause unintelligibility among people from different areas, you do need to choose one dialect for your translations.
- Is it going to be European or Latin American Spanish?
- Within each of those groups, what variety exactly?
Your choice of dialect(s) to translate into can affect the cost and the effectiveness of translated content. But a professional linguist will be able to advise you, so you make the right choices depending on the purpose behind your decision to translate your documents.
Translation English to Spanish: Food for Thought
Drawing on the above differences between English and Spanish and considering there are many, many more, translating from English to Spanish requires trained professional translators. Translation involves not just working with words but working with language and meaning.
Therefore, you need professional linguists who understand both languages and the cultural nuances within each of them to be able translate to Spanish from English in order to provide you with a final product that resonates with your target audience. If you need to translate into Spanish, give us a call today.
Published Dec. 11, 2018. Updated November 10, 2020.
María Scheibengraf, currently based in London, is an English>Spanish Translator, Interpreter, Transcreator, Proofreader, and Copywriter with 8+ years of experience.
Download the Free Machine Translation Tool
In this article we explained best practices for translation from English to Spanish; the tips were for how to get the most professional translation into Spanish.
However, sometimes you just want a quick and easy translation to simply get the idea of the meaning of text.
If you’re tired of searching the Internet every time you want a Spanish translation free, then we have an English to Spanish translator tool you can download and keep.
It’s a Google Sheets spreadsheet template designed to translate quickly and easily. But it gets better; it doesn’t just translate between two languages. It can translate dozens of languages! Just paste in the text, use the dropdowns to choose languages, and then read the translated text.
It’s simple, free, and yours!
Click here to download your own Free Machine Translation Spreadsheet Template.
Get free translation tips straight to your inbox!
- Get tips on how to translate your website, marketing materials!
- Get actionable advice to help you succeed with international business.
- Be the first to access free language and management tools.
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.
Hi Alberto, Absolutely! Word-by-word is sure to get the translator in trouble. Thanks for dropping by!
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.
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.
Great article, Thanks a lot for sharing such a kind of informative article. these tips will help me so much!!!
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!
Thank you very much for sharing these translation tips, it is very helpful for any translators. love to read it, thanks for sharing!!!
Thanks for reading!
Nice blog, this is very important tips for a new translator. Who is learning how to Translating English To Spanish.
“Impressive post. Thank you so much for sharing this post with us. Great Job!”
Thanks so much!
This is very helpful information. Thank you for sharing this post!
Awesome tips! Thank you so much for sharing with us.
It is good to know that you will need to think about gendered words when it comes to translations. It does seem like a good thing to get a professional interpreter who knows all of those words. That way, you don’t run into any issues with that.
Helpful Article. All the points are explained very well. One of the best and free online translators is TraductorPro.
Very helpful post thanks for sharing.
Great tips on a Spanish translation. There are guidelines translators and interpreters must be followed.
Amazing tips on a Spanish translation. There are so many guidelines that translators must follow. Overall Helpful Article. All the points are explained very well.