Translating into Spanish: Our Top Five Misconceptions

Translating into Spanish: Our Top Five Misconceptions

Your company is ready to take the plunge and reach out to that huge Spanish-speaking and Spanish-preferred audience. You know that you could easily leverage your existing English language materials and have them translated into Spanish. But is that as easy as it sounds? During our many years of experience in the translation industry, we’ve encountered many mis conceptionsabout Spanish translations. This is why we have picked the Top Five misconceptions to shed light on what is implied when translating into Spanish: the third most-widely spoken language in the world and second most important one in the U.S.Enjoy!

1. I need a translation into neutral Spanish, please.

A logical translation goal is to reach the widest Spanish-speaking audience possible. Therefore, the obvious choice is “neutral Spanish,”a variant of the language which favors those terms and structures most likely to be understood by the largest number of Spanish speakers. However, is this goal realistic for all texts? To put it bluntly, no! Neutral Spanish can be used in highly cultural or formal academic textsin fields such as human sciences or scientific areas of knowledge. Yet, in areas where language is more casual, such as marketing or the food industry, using neutral Spanish is not necessarily the best choice. For example, the translation of a restaurant menu which features a delicious avocado salad will raise the question:“Is there a neutral Spanish term for avocado?” Actually, there is not. Avocado can be translated as “aguacate”, “palta”, or “cura”, the best choice depending upon your target community.The next time you request a Spanish translation, ask yourself, “what is my target audience?” The answer will allow your translator to make the best Spanish choices for your text.

2. Any native Spanish speaker can take care of my translations.

Being a native speaker of a language does not qualify just anyone to tackle the often daunting task of translating. In addition to a deep understanding of the target culture, translating accurately and maintaining the desired impact of the original text requires in-depth knowledge of the target language. This knowledge can only be acquired through comprehensive study, professional training in translationas well as translating skills, and experience and/or specialization in the subject matter. Think about it this way: If you were opening a restaurant that you hope will be successful, you would not hire a friend who knows how to cook good omelets as your head chef. Instead, you would want to hire the greatest professional chef you can afford to give your restaurant a fighting chance. Likewise, to give your translation a fighting chance, hire a professional!

3. Oh, no! This is outrageous! There are English terms in my translation!

In fact, in some instances, this is not such a bad idea. There are areas that definitely lend themselves to the use of English terms better than others, technology being one of them. Picture this: You are launching a brand-new “cool” smartphone that will allow your customers to have a VIP experience in communications. Certainly, the words “cool”, “smartphone”, and “VIP” can be translated into Spanish, but, if you are aiming at a young, hip customer, will those Spanish equivalents resonate just as well? Probably not. In some cases, going for the Spanish words when dealing with English terms that are well-known and broadly-used by Spanish speakers not only in the USA but in Latin America,could do your text a disservice.

4. I don’t need to worry about figures andnumbers in my text.

Believe it or not, the way numbers are written can change from one language to another, and even within the same language, from one linguistic community to another. Thus, in English, figures of four digits or more will use commas, whereas in Spanish the norm indicates the use of a blank space, instead. In the case of decimals, some Spanish-speaking countries prefer the comma, while others the point, period, or full stop. The case of measurements is even more relevant. The United States, for example, uses what is known as the US customary units, a measurement system characterized by the use of pounds, ounces and miles, among others. Spanish speakers, on the other hand, are familiar with the metric system, which uses kilos, grams, meters, and so forth. Therefore, for a Spanish translationa ddressed to Latin America, consider going “metric”!

5.This translation has spelling and punctuation mistakes!

Capitalization and punctuation can also be different from language to language. In English, for example, the days of the week and the months are spelled with a capital letter while in Spanish they are not. As for punctuation, an example could be the substitution of a verb with a comma in Spanish to avoid repetition, a use of this punctuation mark which does not exist in English. Also, it is not uncommon to see titles in English which use the upper case and periods (i.e. Winter Is Here!) while in Spanish, titles never carry a period and should be written with an initial upper case only (i.e.¡Llegó el verano!). Also, note that in Spanish exclamation and questions marks have opening marks as well.

So remember, when requesting a Spanish translation, we recommend, first having your Spanish-speaking target audience clearly identified. Second, we recommend putting yourself in the hands of professionals. They will definitely know what is best for your text. All you will have to do is sit back and relax.

Author. The Language Concepts Team

Language Concepts Consulting is a boutique provider of multilingual translation services. Languages we translate from and into include: English, French, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Vietnamese and many more. We partner with organizations looking to penetrate and/or serve the multicultural markets in the USA, and Latin America. We provide native-quality and culturally-sensitive translations that get our client’s message across and resonates with their target audience.

For more information, please give us a call at 480.626.2926 or visit us at

Kathy Paredes

Click here

Comments are closed.