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Spanish translation

By Hilary Picken | February 28, 2019 | Languages

Spanish translation

1492 was a challenging year for Spanish school children. Not only did Columbus discover the Americas, but Antonio de Nebrija published the first Spanish grammar book. Extra Spanish AND geography homework all round!

Since then Spanish has become the second-largest first language on earth. Mother tongue to an estimated 450 million people, 10% of them live in Columbus’ new world.

Spanish is also the official language in 31 countries. By head count, Mexico is leading, but look ahead to 2050 and the biggest Spanish-speaking community will be comprised of Americans.

Looking at digital communications, Spanish is already hugely important. Overall, it is the third most popular language online, used by 7.9% of internet users. On social media (Twitter and facebook) it is the second most popular language. In terms of number of visitors, it is the second language of importance to Wikipedia.

By the year 2100, over 10% of the world will be able to communicate perfectly well in Spanish.


The value of Spanish markets

20 languages produce 80% of the world’s wealth; English and Chinese share the top spot at 20% each. The collective Spanish-speaking economies occupy third place on the podium, with an annual GDP of $7 trillion – approximately 8% of the world’s wealth and more than twice that of Germany.

For international organisations and brands, a well-understood presence in the Spanish speaking world can be very good for business.


Translating into Spanish

Like most languages which enjoyed a huge geographical spread based on empire, distance and time have created multiple regional variations from the historical home-nation norm.

The native language of an estimated 129 million people, Mexican Spanish is a significant variant of the language which originated in Spain. The spread across the USA, Spain itself, the islands of the Caribbean and the countries of Central and South America have led to the emergence of an array of national and regional dialects across multiple continents.

Each variant has local differences. For example, in Argentina, sophisticated porteños (posh folk from Buenos Aires) use a dialect very different from their Patagonian villager countrymen. And Argentineans, in general, ignore the “tú” form of “you” in favour of “vos” – which doesn’t exist in most textbooks. The list goes on.

Businesses and organisations wanting a meaningful, and contextually appropriate voice in Spanish speaking markets should engage  professional translation support to carry their message to their audiences.

What to watch out for in Spanish translation 

1. One language, many versions

As the Spanish language was exported across the world there are now different and distinct versions across the Americas. River Plate Spanish for example mixed Spanish with other European and native influences and resulted in, amongst other things, a new form of address voseo replacing the familiar used to address friends and children individually.


2. Spanish formality

Similar to “tu” and “vous” in French, Spanish has different words for “you”: and Usted. Generally “tú”  is for young people or people you know well and “Usted” is for older people or when you want to show a greater level of respect. You should always check to make sure you’re choosing the right one for your target audience.


3. One size doesn’t fit all

Words in one language can translate into more or fewer words in another, depending on the sentence structure. English, for example, is generally a succinct language whereas Spanish translations can be up to 30% longer.

This is an important consideration for any translation looking to be displayed in a confined space such as a question box, a web page H1 header, or an online training module.

It can be difficult to translate tightly packed text, whether on a single page or in graphics. Leave some space when you’re creating your document to save headaches later.


4. False friends

“Pie” may look familiar to English speakers but actually means foot. Likewise, “ropa” looks like rope but means clothing and “actualmente” looks like actually but really means currently. A professional translator is the safest way of ensuring your meaning is translated accurately.

5. Don’t ask me

Spanish punctuation is unique – questions start with inverted question marks (¿) and inverted exclamation marks (¡) are used to start sentences that finish with a normal one.