Translation challenges between German and Spanish: Rising above the language barrier

Translation is capturing the meaning of words from the source to the target language. One of the analogies used to explain what this work entails refers to a translator as a builder: their task is to carefully demolish a building or structure (the source text), carry the bricks somewhere else (into the target language), and construct a new building – with the same bricks.

Every kind of translation raises different challenges, after all, languages are a process of free creation with fixed laws and principles which are used in many different ways. Some languages belong to the same family and are close to each other in terms of structure and symbolism, while others are distant in every possible way. But at the of the day, whether close or far apart, translating from one language into another implies a serious of challenges that need to be faced by translators.

Here we list a few challenges of translating from German into Spanish:


A Different Origin

Both languages belong to the Indo-European family, but while German is part of the Western Germanic branch, Spanish is a Western Romance language that derives from Latin. Because of this, there are little to no false friends (a phenomenon that occurs when words are very similar between two languages but differ in meaning) between these languages, however, it leads to structural differences in word and phrase formation and makes translation a challenging process.


Letters and symbols

Although both Spanish and German share the same alphabetic system, some symbols are exclusive to each language, such as the German grapheme ß, called Eszett or scharfes S, or the ñ in Spanish.

German also uses three letter-diacritic combinations Both also makes use of umlauts also are part of it; these are 3 additional characters (Ä/ä, Ö/ö, Ü/ü) using the umlaut, which are officially considered distinct letters of the alphabet. The last character (Ü/ü) also exists in Spanish though it is rarely used.


Finding substitutes for idioms, expressions or word plays

When translated literally, idioms, puns or wordplays lose their purpose because even if all the words in a sentence are properly localized, the meaning of the whole is not there anymore, mainly due to idiomatic and cultural reasons.

Exceptionally, some idioms or ways of saying will be similar between the two languages, but most of the time the translator will need to look up for a different expression and diverge from the source text in order to deliver the same kind of meaning and impact.

See the following  idiom where the meaning stays pretty much the same between the two languages:

  • German: Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung setzen…
  • Spanish: Mover cielo y tierra…

(English: To move heaven and earth…)

However, here is another German expression that translates differently into Spanish

  • German: Tomaten auf den Augen haben…
  • Spanish option: No ver más allá de tus narices…

(English: To be blind…)

Finding great substitutes is not exclusive to German-Spanish translations. However, some languages like Italian and Spanish are more closely related to each other and finding matching expressions it’s far simpler than in others which have a different structure.


Abbreviations in the German language

German, like many other Germanic languages, is popular for its extremely long words, and this why abbreviations are used extensively. Unless they have an elephant memory and can remember them all by heart, translators working with this language will probably need to have an abbreviations list close by, to check what they stand for whenever they run into them.

This phenomenon isn’t very common in Spanish, and abbreviations are hardly ever used.


Spanish presents variations depending on the region

Spanish is the second most spoken native language in the world, with a presence in the five continents. However, Spanish speakers are mostly concentrated in Spain, Latin America, and the United States. These three densely populated regions have diverse language characteristics.

In Latin America, almost all the countries speak different variations of Spanish (excluding Brazil and Haiti). To properly localize into Spanish, a professional translator must be aware of the different singularities, though you can’t expect them to know every expression in each language variation. Having a proper command of language variations according to the target market will avoid misunderstanding that could arise for instance if a there is a purely Mexican expression in a text meant to a Spanish audience.


German Compounds

Another issue of working with this language pair arises from the German national sport of compounding. Compounds are formed of at least two stems and can combine any parts of speech (noun + noun, adjective + adjective, verb stem + noun, etc.).

The American writer Mark Twain thoroughly mocked this tradition of compounds words in his famous essay entitled The Awful German Language saying “some German words are so long that they have a perspective”.

Spanish doesn’t have compound words, therefore, translators working from German into Spanish will certainly need to look for other ways of expressing the meaning held within the compound expression.


Finding qualified professionals

As we have seen, translating from German into Spanish comes along with several challenges which require qualified and dedicated professionals to sort them out. Translating gets even more complicated when you work with specific domains such as life sciences, legal or finance which demand specific terminology knowledge or if you need to translate files in specific files formats such as PDF, HTML or InDesign.

If you have translation needs from German into Spanish, please contact us! We are professional in the language industry and will deliver the quality work your company requires.

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