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Spanish Language Characteristics

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Before starting any translation project, you should be aware of certain linguistic realities of the Spanish language. This will help you deal with some issues that will arise (e.g., text expansion) and may affect your Spanish translation project.

The following are some basic fundamentals related to the Spanish language:

  • The Spanish language utilizes the Latin alphabet, with a few special letters: vowels with an acute accent (á, ú, é, í, ó), u with an umlaut (ü) and an n with a tilde (ñ).
  • The Spanish language spelling system, due to a substantial number of reforms, is almost perfectly phonemic and, therefore, easier to learn than the majority of languages. The Spanish language is pronounced phonetically; however, beware of the trilled ‘r,’ which is somewhat complex to reproduce. The letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ are almost indistinguishable. The letter ‘h’ is silent.
  • Spanish language punctuation is very close to, but not the same as English. There are a few significant differences. For example, in Spanish, exclamation and interrogative sentences are preceded by inverted question and exclamation marks, for example, ¿Habla usted inglés? (Do you speak English?) or ¡Qué lástima! (What a pity!). Also, in a Spanish dialog, a change in speakers is indicated by a dash (-), while in English, each speaker’s remark is placed in separate paragraphs.
  • Formal and informal translations address several different characteristics. Deference and politeness is expressed by the use of 2nd person ‘tu’ and 3rd person ‘usted’.
  • ‘Ser’ vs. ‘estar’: Two verbs denote the translation concept of to be. ‘Ser’ is used for permanent states; ‘estar’ is used to describe temporary things and to indicate transition.
  • Inflection, declination and grammatical gender are important features of the Spanish language.
  • There are normally 20% more words in the Spanish version of an English to Spanish translation.

In the Spanish language, there are various formatting issues that may have a direct effect on your translation. For example, titles in Spanish require the capitalization of only the first letter of the first word of a title. In English, the first letter of almost every word is normally capitalized. When using numbers in Spanish, periods replace commas and vice-versa. If not addressed properly, this could lead to significant confusion and potentially, financial liability.


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