Challenges for english to spanish translation


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Challenges for english to spanish translation

  1. 1. Usted, Tú, Vos - Challenges for English-to-Spanish TranslationThis article was originally published on the Acclaro blog.Category: Translators CornerYour high school Spanish has probably been retired to some remote corner of your mind thatyou visit only occasionally by necessity. Even so, you likely remember the challenges of learningthis rich and beautiful language that so many Americans claim is „easy‟. In reality, Spanish ismuch more complex than the layman realizes and its structure varies greatly from one countryto another. The vocabulary, idioms and even grammatical forms are very different in Spain andMexico, for example – lo pasé bien in Spain is la pasé bien in Mexico. Taking these subtletiesand nuances into account and choosing the correct target audience are keys to successfulEnglish-to-Spanish translation. One of the elements of Español that varies greatly across dialects and borders is the use of pronouns - usted, tú and vos. Could anything be more fundamental to a sentence than the pronoun? This particular grammatical element is absolutely crucial and yet its application is very culture-specific. Though we do not have this distinction in English, we can appreciate the difference in tone between „you guys‟ and „you‟. When addressing members of theboard of your company, its unlikely that youd ask, “So how are you guys doing today?” Theformal and informal tone is even more developed in Spanish and is nuanced uniquely ineach hispanohablante country.In Spain, for example, tú has become commonplace and usted is quickly being phased out ofcommunication, much to older generation Spaniards‟ surprise and often chagrin. RadioNacional hosted a program last night for the elderly, who were supposed to call in with words ofwisdom for the next generation. It was surprising to hear the host of the radio and the elderlyfolks address each other using the informal tú as early as the introduction phase– “cómo tellamas” and “cuántos años tienes?” Usted was nowhere to be found or heard.This is a recent phenomenon in Spain – dating back to the 1930s when social equality took onnew importance in the shifting political landscape of the country. Before the 30s, students at thePage 1: Usted, Tú, Vos - Challenges for English-to-Spanish Translation Copyright © Acclaro 2012
  2. 2. university would refer to each other as usted; tú was for God, the family and intimacy. Over thenext several decades, it became progressively more commonplace to refer to friends as tú.Grandparents, professors and other respected professionals followed suit and finally totalstrangers were given the tuteo in the last ten years or so. The higher the social class, themore túhas come to dominate. Today it would be quite odd to call a friend usted in Spain.By contrast, in Colombia, usted is often used among family members and friends to expresstrust, intimacy, solidarity and confidence. Brothers will call each other usted – which to anoutside observer from Madrid would make them seem like strangers from another era. The useof tú is a bit more frequent among women and higher social classes but in general, usted is thedefault pronoun in Colombia.The equation gets more complicated when you add vos. Vos is from Old Spanish and can beheard in isolated areas of Spain and Colombia but is more common in countries like Argentina,Uruguay and Paraguay where it has completely replaced tú in the written word.In Guatemala, vos is used between a man and a woman who have established a relationship butas they are getting to know each other, they‟ll use tú. Among men, the use of tú is a sign ofhomosexuality (via Wikipedia en español). In Nicuaragua, vos is informal and usted isformal; tú is basically extinct. The same goes for Costa Rica where tú is avoided completely.The map of pronoun usage is even more complex when you consider variances within a givencountry linked to social status, sex and geography. This is certainly something to take intoconsideration as a tourist but the stakes are higher if you are taking your business global andneed a culturally appropriate message for each country you plan to target.Given the lack of a universal standard for pronoun usage in Spanish, the goal of crafting amessage that will bear the same emotional and cultural weight in every country isambitious. Localization, which goes beyond translation, is necessary to fine-tune your messageto specific countries, keeping in mind these very pronounced linguistic differences.At the very least, investing in effective localization will spare you the embarrassment ofcommitting tiny linguistic blunders or transmitting a bland message that is either irrelevant orincomprehensible.Ask your translation partner today how to best adapt your website, ad campaigns, marketingdocs and ecommerce platform to the various Spanish-speaking markets. You will see thatgetting your pronouns right will lead to success!Page 2: Usted, Tú, Vos - Challenges for English-to-Spanish Translation Copyright © Acclaro 2012
  3. 3. About Acclaro: Acclaro is an international translation and localization company thathelps the world‟s leading brands succeed across cultures. We specialize in websitetranslation, marketing translations, document translation and software localization togive clients an authentic voice in key language markets. North America: 1-866-468-5106 Worldwide: +1-914-468-0222 www.acclaro.comsales@acclaro.comPage 3: Usted, Tú, Vos - Challenges for English-to-Spanish Translation Copyright © Acclaro 2012