Essentials for translation into Spanish-speaking markets

translation into Spanish

Entering a new market is always a daunting project and especially in the case of an international expansion to an entirely new country and culture. In the case of Spanish however, this venture becomes even more complicated since Spanish is the official language in 21 countries/territories and spoken by approximately 483 million people as a native language. This diversity in cultures and dialects makes the translation into Spanish-speaking markets a really important (and sometimes overwhelming!) step in this venture.

Interesting facts

  • Spanish is the world’s second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese, and the world’s fourth-most spoken language, after English, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi.
  • Spanish is the official or national language in Spain, Equatorial Guinea, and 18 countries and one territory in the Americas. Speakers in the Americas total some 418 million.
  • In the European Union, Spanish is the mother tongue of 8% of the population, with an additional 7% speaking it as a second language.
  • In the US, according to the 2012 American Community Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau, Spanish is spoken at home by 38.3 million people aged five or older, more than twice as many as in 1990.
  • Also, Spanish is by far the most widely taught second language in the country, and with over 50 million total speakers, the United States is now the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico.

Linguistic differences between regions

Spanish might be one language with a strong basic common core supported by a common cultural and literary tradition, but there are many differences between the various linguistic regions in the Spanish-speaking world.

In a broad sense, we can group Spanish into the following categories:

Peninsular Spanish:
  • Castilian (This term applies to the official Spanish language, spoken in northern and central Spain)
  • Andalusian (This dialect, spoken in southern Spain, is the second-most popular in the country after Castilian)
  • Canarian (Canary Islands)
  • There we should also mention that there are 4 other official languages spoken in Spain: Catalan, Basque, Galician and Aranese.
Latin American Spanish:
  • Mexican (The variety with the most speakers is Mexican Spanish. It is spoken by more than 20% of the world’s Spanish speakers)
  • Caribbean (Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, northern Colombia and Caribbean Mexico).
  • Andean-Pacific (Peru, Ecuador, western Bolivia, Colombia and western Venezuela).
  • Rio de la Plata (Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay)
  • Chilean
  • Central American (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala)

The main differences between these dialects occur in three areas:

  • pronunciation
  • grammar and
  • vocabulary

Differences in pronunciation

Even though pronunciation might not be that important when it comes to translation into Spanish, however it is crucial for dubbing and voice-over. An interesting example is that early imported sound films were dubbed into one version for the entire Spanish-speaking market. But currently, films not originally in Spanish (usually Hollywood productions) are dubbed separately into two accents: one for Spain and other for Latin America (using a Mexican or Puerto Rican accent without regionalisms). And in the case of some high-budget productions, such as the Harry Potter film series, there they had dubs in three or more of the major accents.

The 2 major linguistic phenomena we come across when it comes to the pronunciation of Spanish are the following:

  1. El seseo – This is the difference between the maintenance or the loss of distinction in the phonemes /θ/ and /s/
  2. El yeísmo – the maintenance or loss of distinction between phonemes represented orthographically by ll (elle) and y (ye)

Differences in grammar

Virtually all dialects of Spanish make the distinction between a formal and a familiar register in the second-person singular, and thus have two different pronouns meaning “you”: usted in the formal, and either tú or vos is the familiar (and each of these three pronouns has its associated verb forms), with the choice of tú or vos varying from one dialect to another. Tú is used in Castillian Spanish, vos is used in Latin American Spanish.

Differences in vocabulary

The difference between Spanish dialects is mostly visible in the vocabulary and this is what concerns us the most when talking about translation into Spanish.

Here is an interesting example: Spanish is rich in regional terms to refer to an urban bus; you may hear colectivo in Argentina and Venezuela, ómnibus in Perú and Uruguay, micro in Chile, camión in Mexico and parts of Central America and guagua in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but every Spanish speaker knows what an autobús is.

Also many dialects, such as Mexican Spanish have borrowed words from indigenous languages of the Americas, such as the Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Among these words are many names for food, plants and animals, clothes, and household objects, such as the following:

Word English translation
camote sweet potato
pipián stew
chapulín grasshopper
huipil blouse

Additionally, American Spanish tends to borrow words directly from English often leaving the spelling of the word intact. For example, when referring to a computer in Latin America, they speak of la computadora while in Spain it’s el ordenador.

In addition to loan words, there are a number of Spanish words that have developed distinct senses in different regional dialects. The everyday Spanish word coger (‘to take’) are considered extremely rude in parts of Latin America, where the meaning of coger is also “to have sex”.

Mutual comprehension

Nevertheless, the different dialects and accents do not block cross-understanding. There is a kind of neutral, standard Spanish (also called International Spanish) which is used and understood by all educated Spanish speakers and ensures that people throughout the Spanish-speaking world can communicate with each other as easily as people from Britain and the United States can. This standard (which is not an actual official language) tends to disregard local grammatical, phonetic and lexical peculiarities and preserves certain verb tenses considered “bookish” or archaic in most other dialects. Standard Spanish is the preferred form in formal settings, and is considered indispensable in academic and literary writing and the media. Standard Spanish could work with general texts but it is not suitable for marketing and advertising texts.

Entering Spanish Markets

So, you have decided to enter a Spanish-speaking market and move forward with the translation into Spanish. What should your next steps be?

  • First of all, it is useful to know where the translation will be used in order to adapt terminology to a specific variant, whenever that is possible. If it is not possible, we advise you to look for the most neutral option, which could be the Mexican variant. Then you should determine who is your target audience and what do you want to achieve with these translations.
  • Also, it is important that you (or your language services partner) choose and use local and native resources for the translation into Spanish, people that speak the dialect in question and preferably people living in the specific area where the dialect is spoken.
  • Another important point is the optimization of the source text. In case the source file needs to be localized into various languages/variants, it would be very helpful to use a simpler source for the translation, a source text that is easier to adapt to other languages.

If you are looking for an experienced and reliable team to help with your expansion plans and the translation of your content into Spanish variants, contact us here.