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What to know about translating Spanish

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • May 1, 2023 12:00:00 AM

Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world, and the second language with the most native speakers. This means, among many other things, that Spanish is also one of the most requested languages for translation.

But whether a Spanish-language book or TV show is being translated into another language, or an interpreter is helping Spanish-speaking clients in a medical environment, it’s important to remember that Spanish is not really a single language at all. Instead, it’s made up of a myriad of dialects and regional variations.

Here are some fascinating facts that show just how wide-reaching the Spanish language is, and how much it can vary from place to place:

●The Spanish language originated in Spain, and came to resemble what we know today around the 13th century AD. But today, only 10% of the world’s Spanish-speaking population lives in Spain.

●Mexico is currently home to the world’s largest Spanish-speaking population, with an estimated 122 million Spanish-speakers.

●Spanish is an official language in 21 countries. A number of other countries and regions have large Spanish-speaking populations, as well.

12.5% of the US population are native speakers of Spanish, making the United States the country with the fourth largest population of Spanish-speakers in the world. A majority of Spanish-speakers in the US have origins in places as varied as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and El Salvador, each with their own dialects, expressions, and various other subtle differences. 2/3 of the US Hispanic population was born in the US, and many speakers are bilingual, infusing aspects of English into the Spanish they speak in everyday life.

●While Spain is the European country with the most Spanish speakers, there are also Spanish-speaking populations in Andorra, Gibraltar, Switzerland, France, and Italy.

●In addition to Europe and the Americas, Spanish is also spoken in Africa (notably in Equatorial Guinea) and in Asia (the Philippines).

●As you can guess, all of these variants of Spanish, not to mention local and regional dialects, mean that Spanish, like many other languages, has a number of different accents.

One of the most famous and easily heard Spanish accent differences is that people in Spain who speak the Castilian form of standard Spanish seem to pronounce their “s” ‘s with a lisp. There’s a popular story that says this dates back to a medieval Spanish king who had a lisp and decreed that everyone in his kingdom speak like him. But historians and linguists have found this to be just a popular legend. In reality, the “lisp” is simply a variant of the standard “s” pronunciation. It’s called a ceceo.

The ceceo isn’t pronounced in Spanish spoken in North, South, and Central America because most of the Spanish explorers and settlers who colonized these places came from Seville, a region where Spanish wasn’t spoken with the ceceo.

●Other Spanish accent variations around the globe include pronouncing “v” as “b”, dropping “s” and “d” sounds, and adding a lisp sound to the final “d” in a word.

With its global presence and long history, Spanish is made up of a multitude of dialects and variants. It’s important to keep all of these facts in mind when translating Spanish. Consider where your target audience is from and be sure to adapt content to their local accent, dialect, and idioms in order to have more than just a translation, but content that makes a true connection.

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