3 Things to bear in mind when translating between Spanish and English

1.       Frequency of articles

Spanish used articles much more frequently than English. Out of habit, this can quickly cause native Spanish speakers to overuse articles in their English translation and native English speakers may underuse them in their translation to Spanish.


‘I like football’ = ‘Me gusta el fútbol’ and not ‘Me gusta fútbol’. There is no article required in English, so it needs to be added by the translator for the Spanish version.

‘Los médicos salvan vidas’ = ‘Doctors save lives’ and not ‘The doctors save lives’ (which also makes sense but sounds very definite instead of a general claim). The translator here has to recognise that the article used does not translate into the target language.


2.       Formal and informal pronouns

Spanish distinguishes between formal address and informal address with its pronouns ‘tú/usted’ and ‘vosotros/ustedes`. English always addresses the second person as ‘you’. Thus, in translation from English to Spanish, the translator has to make choices regarding formality of the pronouns, which requires a consideration of context and evaluation of overall tone.

Moreover, regional differences must be considered in the translation of pronouns, particularly in passages including dialogue. For example, in the Canary Islands, natives mainly substitute ‘vosotros’ with ‘ustedes’ even when talking to friends or in an informal context (which also changes the entire grammatical structure of the sentences). Though the use of ‘vosotros’ would not limit understanding, the dialect may need to be transferred in passages of dialogue in order to assure familiarity – localization plays a key role here.


3.       Idioms

Idioms and proverbs are a hurdle in any translation project. Spanish to English does not make a difference here. Luckily, most idioms have a place across a range of different languages and are merely expressed differently, while maintaining the same meaning. Translators must research those in order to avoid the mishap of attempting to translate an idiom literally – and end up with a translation that makes little sense.

A few examples here:

‘Tomar el pelo’ (literally means ‘to take the hair’) = ‘To pull someone’s leg’

‘Ser pan comido’ (literally means ‘to be eaten bread’) = ‘To be a piece of cake’

‘Estar más sano que una pera’ (literally means ‘to be healthier than a pear’) = ‘To be as fit as a fiddle’



Translation has always found its way around such differences in source and target language and continues to build bridges. Keep up with our blog for more content from the industry!

Daniel Jelis

Daniel Jelis

Head of Marketing

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