Spanish is spoken by over 430 million people and is the official language of 20 different countries. As a result, many assume translating to or from Spanish is a breeze. After all, Spanish shares its origins with other Latin-based languages (including English), and is often cited as one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. Yet, mistakes and mistranslations frequently appear when translating English to Spanish, or vice versa. So the question remains, why do so many errors occur between two languages that share common ancestry?

Overestimating the ease of Spanish Translation

On the surface, Spanish can be perceived as an easy language for English speakers to learn and understand, especially when compared to other non-Romance languages. However, this way of thinking has developed into the stereotype that Spanish is an “easy” language, when, in fact, all languages have their own complexities and nuances. Spanish is no exception to the rule. However, as a result of this misconception, Spanish translation is often relegated to machines, non-native or less qualified native speakers. When this happens, the resulting translation is all but guaranteed to be riddled with mistakes and lack context.

Many English speakers know some Spanish

Spanish is one of the most common second languages for native English speakers and the fourth most common language in the world. However, being ubiquitous does not mean that Spanish can be translated by just anyone. Nonetheless, Spanish translation is attempted by those who think that a basic understanding of the language is enough. However, these attempts almost never produce quality results. Many non-native and less qualified native speakers often ignore basic grammar rules and fail to grasp the meaning of technical vocabulary and euphemisms.

The complexities of the Spanish language

Despite its relative ease compared with other languages, Spanish is a rich language with dozens of distinct dialects and regional variations. For example, most of the population in Spain speak either Castilian or Andalusian Spanish, though several other languages are spoken throughout the country. Latin American Spanish, spoken throughout much of Central and South America, features a distinct accent and vocabulary, which can also vary from country to country. In Argentina and Uruguay, most people speak Rioplatense Spanish, which blends elements from both Spanish and Italian. Even native Spanish speakers in the United States have developed their own unique lexicon, which occasionally borrows terms from English. So, even if one has a strong grasp of the language, Spanish translations can differ by region and demographic, making Spanish translation a task best left to the professionals.

And how do the professional linguists handle this?  By translating into what’s commonly referred to as Broadcast Spanish.  This type of Spanish is what is most commonly used in newspapers, on television and radio in Latin America.  Using this type of Spanish reduces the regional influences and better ensures understanding.  Our translators and translations are specifically vetted to reduce language and grammar specific to only various regions. As a result, one translation can be used in several different countries and regions and carry the same message and context as the original language.

The Hazards of English to Spanish Translations

In most areas of communication, accuracy is key. This is especially true in the political arena. When translations go array, the results can be a complete embarrassment for all parties involved. The 2018 gubernatorial campaign in Nevada provides a perfect example of poor translations with disastrous consequences.

There are roughly 41 million native Spanish speakers in the United States and nearly half a million Spanish speakers in Nevada alone. Needless to say, politicians in the “Battle Born” state try to reach out to their Spanish-speaking constituents. However, in 2018, due to a lack of proper Spanish translation, this plan backfired for certain candidates. The websites and advertisements of various political figures in Nevada were riddled with translation errors, including (but not limited to) the confusion of a political “party” with a “fiesta,” and using the Spanish term for “hug” when discussing the voters’ “full embrace” of career-focused education.

While some of these errors are humorous, they can have serious, and sometimes even detrimental effects in the real world. In the case of the Nevada gubernatorial race, many Hispanic voters felt ignored because the candidates trying to win their votes couldn’t even take the time to find quality translation services. Instead, they opted for the ease and efficiency of machine translation. In 2014, analysts cited the low voter turnout among Hispanics as one of the primary reasons Republicans won various elections across the state. Whereas in 2016, an energized Hispanic population helped give Hillary Clinton a win in Nevada. So, even small translation errors can make the difference in major elections.

While some candidates took the time to seek out quality English to Spanish translators, not everyone was so proactive. Republican Senator Dean Heller’s website not only relied on machine translation, but actually announced this fact to the Spanish-speaking public. The site allowed users to translate his ads and news releases using Google Translate, but the online translation program often mixes up common phrases, and rarely recognizes the nuances of different idioms. Spanish-speakers were left confused and frustrated by Heller’s utter disregard for their needs.

Even Heller’s detractors made grave errors when translating English to Spanish. His opponents referred to him as “El Senador Sin Espina” in an attempt to call him “spineless” or “cowardly,” but for native Spanish speakers, the phrase has an entirely different and confusing meaning. The idiom of being “spineless” does not exist in most Spanish speaking cultures, and can even be translated as “lacking a thorn,” which makes even less sense.

Though some of these errors seem innocent enough, their effects were far-reaching. Whether you are looking at documents in a business meeting or campaigning for the Presidency of the United States, accurate translations are a necessity. Even just a few small gaffs can make the difference between winning and losing.

Translating Spanish Documents with ITC

Considering the consequences of poor Spanish translations, it is vital that documents are translated by a trained professional. At the International Translating Company, all our translators are dual-native linguists who have gone through a rigorous and continual vetting process to ensure that we only provide the best document translations. Each document is translated by a certified dual-native linguist and then reviewed by a team of specialists and proofreaders before being submitted to the client. We take pride in our work and provide a quality of service that cannot be matched by any machine or non-native translator.

Are you interested in learning more about ITC’s Spanish translation services? Check out our homepage for more information.