The challenges of translating Spanish documents

Learn more about the main challenges when it comes to translating Spanish documents

The translating of Spanish documents is becoming increasingly important globally. Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and is widely used in diplomatic bodies, such as the Organization of American States and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. It is the third most used language on the internet, behind only English and Chinese.

As globalization increases, content in Spanish needs to be translated into other languages and vice versa, making the scope of Spanish translation increasingly larger. Let’s look at Spanish translation in general and the challenges it poses. See below:

Spanish: a brief history

Spanish belongs to the Iberian Romance languages, evolving from vulgar Latin and taking shape after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Studies suggest that about 75% of modern Spanish is derived from Latin.

However, Latin is not it’s only influence. The Arab presence in the Iberian Peninsula had a major impact on the language. Studies show that about 8% of the Spanish vocabulary is derived from Arabic itself.

Other neighboring languages also had an influence. Those include Basque, Iberian and Visigothic. The effect of such different languages, such as Galician, Catalan and Sardinian, cannot be ruled out in terms of vocabulary additions.

Due to the conquest of the Americas by the Spanish Empire, from 1492, Spanish gained prominence in these territories. Notably, territories around the world, such as the Philippines and some areas in Africa, have received part of this Spanish language influence as well.

Naturally, Spain is the main country where Spanish is spoken in Europe. In the Americas, Spanish is spoken throughout Central America, in addition to South America and the Caribbean.

Types of Spanish documents translation

There are several different styles and types of Spanish translation. The main ones include:

  • Literary translation: for literature and is very difficult. In addition to maintaining accuracy, a translator must create a translated work that is well written, pleasant and really beautiful. Usually, a translator needs a lot of experience to start this type of project;
  • Translation and dubbing of movies and television shows: there are many movies and television shows that need to be translated and dubbed to reach a wider audience;
  • Translation of documents in general: the range of materials may that require translation is impressive. This includes legal documents, medical texts, advertising materials, manuals of all kinds and more.

The challenges of translating Spanish documents

The difficulties of translating from Spanish are enormous. Here are some basic challenges:

Length and brevity

This is an interesting problem in Spanish translation, which is often overlooked. Spanish is a longer language, so to speak.

If a text in Portuguese or English, for example, is placed next to its Spanish translation, generally, the Spanish version will be longer.

This means an experienced translator must be hired if there is a need for length equal to the source language text.


Formality is one of the main differences. Spanish has different forms that convey a level of familiarity and/or informality or seriousness and/or formality.

The “tu” and “usted” are great examples. “Tu” is used to address a friend or family member, while “usted” is used to address more formally an authority.

A professional translator must find out the intention of the text and its potential audience and choose the correct translation.

Localization and accents

Localization is a notable challenge when translating Spanish documents. Spanish is a language, of course, but accents, slang and vocabulary can vary widely between countries.

There are differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and Latin America, but there are also differences between the types of Spanish spoken in different countries in Latin America, for example, as well as in different regions of Spain.

Translators must strive to understand the target audience and adapt their translation to the specific version of Spanish spoken in the original text. 

Precision vs. beauty

One of the biggest challenges for any translator, especially in literary translation, is the conflict between precision and beauty.

Fidelity can be considered the noble purpose of translators, but it does not have much to do with what is called literal meaning. A translation can be true to tone and intention and, at the same time, also true to meaning.

One of the talents of a good translator is knowing when to be totally accurate and when to try to retain the intention of a word or phrase by trying to find what is most aesthetically pleasing in the target language, but not necessarily what is more literal.

Cultural knowledge

A good Spanish translator must be bilingual and bicultural. A successful Spanish translation entails understanding the differences between both languages and cultures involved in the translation process.

Lack of cultural understanding can be a problem. Chevrolet had to learn this the hard way in Mexico in the 1970s, or so the legend goes.

General Motors introduced its Chevrolet Nova model with high hopes for the Mexican market, but soon discovered that the car was not selling as well as they expected.

Finally, someone suggested a possible reason for the poor sales.

“Nova” in Spanish could be understood as “not going”. The company decided to change the name of the vehicle and sales improved. Although some have recently questioned this story, the lesson seems to remain: get to know the language and get to know the culture of your audience.

Rely on experts

Spanish is a language of global importance and the need to translate documents into Spanish is growing. Literary translation, translation and dubbing of movies and television shows and sworn translation of documents are the main services provided.

There are several challenges to achieving a successful Spanish translation, such as formality, localization, accents, the dualism between precision and beauty and the need for cultural knowledge.

Therefore, if you need this type of service, the ideal is to have professionals and specialists prepared to serve you. If this is your case, please contact Fidelity Translations and we work to understand your needs and provide you with the best solution available. 

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