English to Spanish Translation: How to Overcome Challenges

English to Spanish Translation: How to Overcome Challenges
Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy


Apart from English, Spanish is the other most widely spoken language in different countries around the world. There are an estimated over 427 million Spanish speakers.

Spanish is the official language in 21 countries (source)and is spoken widely in North America, South America, Europe and parts of Africa. In terms of native speakers, it is only second to Mandarin.

The sheer number of Spanish speakers and their different locations makes the language varied from region to region. Sometimes, the same expressions may have different meanings in different parts of the same country. This brings about some challenges when translating Spanish to English and vice-versa.

Why Translating Spanish is Tricky

Spanish is a Romance language and has close ties to both Portuguese and Italian. Romance languages differ significantly from English in the way they convey meaning.

Below are five common challenges experienced when translating Spanish to English and how they can be overcome.

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1. Multiple Spanish Versions

With English, there’s UK, US and Australian versions. The language is the same for the most part. However, specific expressions and vocabulary may mean different things in different areas.

For example, in the US, a check is a paper used for financial transactions. In the UK, check refers to the act of looking at something.

These small differences are also present in Spanish. Some expressions may mean different things depending on whether you are translating European Spanish, Americas’ Spanish or other Spanish dialects.

Overcoming the Challenge

Before starting to translate a project, identify where your reader is located and translate it to their specific Spanish. If you don’t localize the spoken Spanish, your audience is likely to be confused.

2. Spanish is a Longer Language

Marketing and ad content usually have to be written in limited space. Marketers need to make a punchy call-to-action by using few words. Every word used in marketing or ad copy is important, especially if the business is charged per word.

Generally, Spanish is a longer language than English. When translating from English to Spanish, you will use approximately 30 percent more words to get a point across. This can be a challenge when translating English ads or marketing materials for a Spanish market.

Overcoming the Challenge

To correctly translate English marketing or ad copy to Spanish, hire professional translators that can pass the advertisers' message using fewer words. Here, the direct translation will be out of the question. The marketing copy should bring out the advertiser’s message in a clear and concise manner.

3. Language Nuances

Just like how English is spoken across different regions, Spanish has its own language nuances. The language has variations in form of slang, grammar, formality and even reference to everyday objects.

Translators have to be keen to notice the differences. This is why automating English to Spanish translation is impossible. To maximize clarity and exposure, translators need to consider various Spanish language nuances when working on projects.

Overcoming the Challenge

Overcoming Spanish language nuances requires manual translation by translators who understand the ways, mannerisms and expressions of the audience that the translation is meant for.

4. Different Grammar Syntax

While some English and Spanish spellings may seem similar, the basic rules and syntax of the languages are remarkably different. Here are some key differences you should know:

i) Verbs
In English, verbs are simply altered by adding suffixes for each tense. In Spanish, each verb tense has six different spellings, depending on the subject.

Let’s look at an example of “bailar” (to dance).

In English, the verb can only be modified in the third-person singular. It can refer to 3 subjects i.e. he, she, or they.

In Spanish, the verb can be conjugated to six different versions depending with the tense. The versions can be “nosotros bailamos, ella baila, tú bailas, yo bailo”, which mean “they dance, she dances, you dance, I dance”.

ii) Gender
Like French, Spanish is a two-gender language. This means nouns are assigned genders and can be considered either male or female.

The general rule is that all objects ending in –o are masculine while those ending in –a are feminine. However, this rule is not set on stone. For instance, while bikinis are worn by women, the noun is actually masculine in Spanish (i.e. biquini)

iii) Syntax
Like English, Spanish follows the Subject-Verb-Object structure. However, the language is also lenient with sentence structure.

For example, in Spanish, you can put an emphasized subject at the end of a sentence. Check the example below:

English: John kicked the ball

In Spanish, if we wanted to emphasize that it was John and not Samuel that kicked the ball, we can put John at the end of the sentence. When followed literally, the sentence would be “kicked the ball John”

As you noticed, the translation is not grammatically correct in English.

Overcoming the Challenge

The differences in verbs, syntax, and gender require translators to have a keen ear to translate the message as intended for the audience.

For translation services companies, English-to-Spanish translation projects should be given to translators with experience in the dialects of the audiences the content is meant for.

Also Read: English To Spanish Translation: 6 Major Grammar Differences

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Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy is the Cofounder & President of GMR Transcription Services, Inc., a California-based company that has been providing accurate and fast transcription services since 2004. She has enjoyed nearly ten years of success at GMR, playing a pivotal role in the company's growth. Under Beth's leadership, GMR Transcription doubled its sales within two years, earning recognition as one of the OC Business Journal's fastest-growing private companies. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids.