When you need English to Spanish translation for business related documents, employee manuals, or create a Spanish-language version of your website, you may be inclined to use translation software or services that offer a literal translation. After all, you want to make sure your content is 100 percent accurate to your original version, right?

Not necessarily. After all, you’ve heard the phrase, “lost in translation” when a word or phrase does not mean the same in one language as it does in the other. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to make sure the reader or listener gets the context, or meaning of the words rather than the content, or the words themselves.

To get a better feel for knowing when to adapt translation to content or context, let’s look closer at the two types of English to Spanish translations with examples and when is the best time to use each one.

Literal Translation vs. Transcreation Translation

Literal translation, also called direct translation, is word-for-word identical to the original content without changing structure, form, or style. In word-for-word translation, the translator is looking at the meaning of each word in the original text as an individual, rather than conveying the meaning of the phrase as a whole. The result of this is accuracy to the words and content, but the meaning may get muddled when going from English to Spanish.

To get the meaning and tone of the words, a translator would use transcreation. This means that the message itself is being adapted from one language to another, ensuring the context is accurate rather than just the words. In most situations, a professional Spanish translator would use or recommend transcreation over a literal translation since, in most cases, the goal is to make the translation both well-written and culturally relevant to its target audience, as well.

Comparing Literal and Transcreation English to Spanish Translation

The most common example of literal translation not working well is through idioms. Let’s look at some common idioms and their equivalent in English and Spanish.

To Tease Someone

In English, when you tell someone you’re teasing, you may say, “I’m just pulling your leg.” To translate that into Spanish would make no sense to the reader, so the English to Spanish translator would say or write “Te estoy tomando el pelo,” which means “I’m taking your hair.”

To Work Hard

When you tell someone they need to work hard, you may say, “It’s time to buckle down and get started!” or “You need to go the extra mile to get this done.” To convey the same meaning in Spanish, you would say, “Ponte las pilas,” which means “Put your batteries on,” but is another way to say, “work hard.”

Use Creative Thought

During a business meeting, when your boss tells you to “think outside the box,” you know they want you to think of a creative solution. In Spanish, a reputable translator may use the phrase “Piense fuera del molde tradicional,” which simply means, “Think outside the traditional mold.”

Being Fit or Healthy

literal translations in spanishIf someone asks you if your grandmother is healthy, you may say, “She’s healthy as a horse!” or “She’s fit as a fiddle!” If that was translated into Spanish literally, the reader or listener would have no idea how healthy a violin is, so the correct idiom to use in it’s place is,” Mi abuela está más sana que una pera,” or “My grandmother is healthier than a pear!”

When Should You Use Transcreation or Literal Translations?

In most situations, an experienced, professional translator knows how to blend context with content. Transcreation allows both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking website visitors, business meeting attendees, and employees reading a safety manual to “be on the same page,” so to speak.

Even so, there are some cases where a literal translation may be needed. A legal court document is a good example. A literal translation would be needed in order to avoid any contention that the translation left out any important information on purpose.

Contact Our Raleigh English to Spanish Translators Today

If you need documents, websites, or any type of resource translated from English into Spanish, look no further than our Raleigh translation services. As native Spanish speakers, we have the cultural sensibility needed to deliver your message in the best way possible! Contact us today at 919-995-2986.

Elsa Jimenez is a native Spanish speaker who was born and raised in a Hispanic country. She is an accomplished lawyer and translator who has been living and working in the U.S. for many years and is also a member of the American Translators Association.

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