British English vs. American English

British and American English are the two major forms of English in the world, and the Canadian and Australian dialects follow behind in number of native speakers.  While native English speakers generally have no problem understanding the English of those from other English-speaking countries, there are some difference between the written and oral forms of American and British English, the most easily recognizable being the following: vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation.  There are also some grammatical differences which might not be as readily apparent if one is not paying close attention.

Below is a brief description of the major ways in which British and American English differ:


There are entire dictionaries devoted to the differences in vocabulary between British and American English, and many dictionaries list whether a term is used in Britain or America.  A few examples are:

American English   |   British English

Apartment                        flat

Elevator                            lift

Trunk                               boot

Vacation                           holiday

Click here for a fun tool to show you some of the vocabulary differences.


The spelling differences fall into a couple of major categories: miscellaneous spelling differences for some words, differences in spellings of words derived from Latin and Greek, and words with difference spellings and different connotations.

The spelling differences that many are most familiar with are those that come from the differences in words derived from Latin or Greek, such as color in American English and colour in British and realize in American and realise in British.

For a comprehensive breakdown of the various spelling differences, peruse Wikipedia’s entry.


The most notable difference between British and American English is that of pronunciation. These fall into two major categories: accent and pronunciation of individual words.  The pronunciation differences can further be broken down into regional differences in America and differences among the countries of Great Britain.

For a list of links to follow to check out the differences between British and American pronunciation, click here.

Implications for Translators

If you translate into Spanish from English, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to work from a document in either American or British English regardless of your country of origin.  However, some clients request that a document be translated from Spanish into either British or American English.  Because of the very subtle grammatical differences, it wouldn’t be wise to translate into an English dialect that you are not intimately familiar with.

If you are a client who needs to have your document translated into a specific dialect of English, make sure that your translator is a native of the country which you will target with your translation.  If this isn’t possible, then make sure that the translator you entrust with your document is either currently living in the country (i.e. an American translator residing in England) or has lived in the country for a substantial amount of time (i.e. a Brit who went to college and worked in the U.S. for several years).

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

We are right in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th to October 15th.  These 31 days are meant to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the U.S.’s largest linguistic and ethnic minority.  The month-long homage to the contributions that Hispanics (those who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries) appropriately begins on September 15th, which is Independence Day for five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.  Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th and Chile’s September 18th.

President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed the week that includes September 15th and 16th to be National Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 and in 1988, the observance was expanded to an entire month.  Each year there is a theme, and the theme of 2008 is Getting Involved: Our Families, Our Communities, Our Nation, which was chosen from the top five suggested themes.

Local and federal governments, private industry, community organizations, and media all contribute to the offerings throughout this month and the Internet is a great resource to learn about the impact Hispanics have made on this country as well as events that are happening across the country.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides a great set of statistics on Hispanics in the U.S. in honor of this month in such categories as Population, Businesses, Families, and Jobs.  To read the stats and find links to the original sources of information, click here.

The Smithsonian Institute’s list of teaching resources gives a broad set of tools to begin exploring the range of ways that Latinos have contributed to our country.

AOL’s Latino Tu Vida channel is a portal to popular Latino culture with quizzes, info about Latino celebrities, and recipes.  To sample these eclectic, entertaining offerings, start here.

These three links are just the beginning to exploring the rich and diverse culture that Hispanics bring to America.  With two weeks left to the month-long celebration, try to attend one of the many celebrations and educational events happening across the country.

More resources:

Hispanic Community in US

Spanish Language

Serving the Latino Community: Health Care Translations

Many people experience anxiety when dealing with health care and medical situations, and this is especially true when English isn’t the first language of patients and their families.  Treatment plans and other health-related documents can be filled with medical jargon that seems foreign even to native English speakers.

As the population of Spanish-speakers continues to grow in the United States, so has the need to provide Hispanics with accurate information that can be readily comprehended.  This often means providing Spanish-speakers with health care information that has been translated into Spanish.

Below is a list of some of the documents that health care providers should provide to patients and their families in Spanish:

Instructions for taking prescription medicines

  • Materials with information about health and wellness issues
  • Simple explanations of diseases and sicknesses and how to avoid them
  • Medical releases and consent forms
  • Hospital and insurance reports
  • Brochures about services provided
  • Information about patients’ rights and responsibilities

Not only will providing Spanish translations of documents that directly affect the health of patients allow you to provide better and more comprehensive care to a growing demographic, but it will also protect you from any ramifications arising from misunderstandings due to language barriers.  By using a reputable translation agency that is able to translate your materials into the language your patients understand best, you will be giving peace of mind to both those you serve and your health care facility. 

Your chosen translation agency should be able to render a Spanish translation that is accessible to the target population.  Two of the most important things the agency should do for you is make the translation understandable to people with a low literacy level and use language that a layperson can understand. 

Certifying Spanish Language Proficiency

If you take a look at job postings, you’ll see that speaking Spanish is a huge asset to many companies and organizations.  In fact, companies hiring for certain positions will require that applicants be bilingual English/Spanish speakers.  But if you are a non-native speaker of Spanish, how do you prove that you speak the language?  This is an especially important question when you realize that people with all different levels of Spanish claim to be fluent in the language on their resume, even if they only took a few semesters in college.

When looking for positions that require that you speak Spanish, make sure that you include the following in your resume if they are applicable:

Extensive travel experience in Spanish-speaking countries

  • Periods of time living abroad
  • Periods of time working or volunteering abroad
  • Previous positions in which you worked directly with Spanish-speakers and in what capacity
  • Any formal language instruction that you received

You might be familiar with the TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which is a standardized exam for English proficiency.  Employers and schools look for scores that certify a certain level of English.  The closest equivalent to this exam for Spanish speakers is the Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera (D.E.L.E.), which offers official accreditation of mastery of the Spanish language from Spain’s Ministry of Education.

The DELEs are given throughout the world in various major cities.  While it may be logistically difficult to take the exam, the accreditation is broadly recognized.  If you are committed to finding a job that’ll utilize your language skills and feel more comfortable touting your Spanish-language skills with an accreditation to back you up, look into getting a D.E.L.E.

Keep in mind that having a diploma is no substitute for real life experience.  While you may score at an advanced level on a proficiency exam, you also must be confident in your ability to communicate with Spanish speakers as they speak in real life.  This is where you can use your previous work experience, time as an expat, or travel experience to highlight your language skills for an employer.

A Client’s Guide to Making Translations Go Smoothly

When choosing a translator or translation agency to work with, you’re essentially starting a relationship with a business partner.  If your company launches itself into the international market or has constituents who don’t speak English, the quality of translations your business disseminates could make or break your business.  Below are some tips to get you started thinking about how to make your relationship with your translator more fluid and productive.

Determine Why You Need a Translation

Do you need a translation for information purposes or for publication purposes?  Have a conversation with your translator about why you need the translation: is it to sell your product abroad to millions or to inform 5 staff people in a foreign office of a policy change?  Of course, a great translator will make sure that any translation is suitable for its audience, but for-publication translations demand only the highest level of polish and accuracy while for-information translations transmit information.

Pay Attention to the Details in the Source Document

Make sure that your source document is clearly written and finalized before passing it along to your translator.  This will save both you and the translator time as she/he won’t need to contact you repeatedly for clarification of the message or wording of what you provided.  Also, be careful to send only source documents that are ready to be disseminated or published as sending draft copies will hold up translation of the document.  If there are significant changes to the source document that the translator already worked on, you might be asked to pay extra fees for the extra work. 

Keep in mind the cultural references and linguistic choices that you make in the source document, as they might not translate well into the target language.  Also, be aware of the target audience for your translation and make sure that your translator knows what you expect.  This will head off any misunderstanding that might occur if the translator wasn’t sure whether the document was meant for all of Latin America or only one country. 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Most misunderstandings between client and translator can be avoided if the client is forthcoming about the project and the translator asks questions when necessary.  It’s important to remember that some translations are more time intensive than others and that you need to communicate the details of a project ahead of time so that the translator can return quality work to you by the established deadline. 

For more tips, please read A Primer for Translation Buyers: Part One and A Primer for Translation Buyers: Part Two

A Primer for Translation Buyers: Part Two

Last week, Transpanish offered tips to understand the difference between interpretation and translation and a guide to pricing.  This week, we will focus on how to choose the best translator for your needs.

Here are some key questions to ask as you start the process of choosing a translation agency or freelance translator:

1.    Does the translator only translate into her native language?

As a general rule, translators should only translate from their non-native language and into their native language.  This is mainly because, no matter how proficient someone is in speaking and writing in a second language, there will always be nuances and phrasing that only native speakers can get right.  Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, as there are translators out there who have spent so much time writing and reading in their non-native language that they are just a step away from being a native speaker.

2.    Do I just need translation services or are there other add-ons that I will need?

If you need services such as desktop publishing, graphic design, or project management, you may want to go with a larger translation agency which can provide the highest quality for these value-added services.  If you prefer to stick with a freelance translator, make sure that the translator has extensive experience in these additional services.

3.    Does the agency or translator have glowing recommendations?

Ask for references from the agency or translator and check into them.  Ask what their experience was like, the quality of the work, and if they’d recommend the service to others.

4.    Do you want someone local for face-to-face meetings?

If you think it’s important to have face-to-face time with your agency or freelancer, your choices will be much more limited.  But if you’re willing to work with someone available via email, chat, and phone, you can choose the best freelancer or agency independent of their location.

5.    Are you willing to pay for quality?

There is a big difference between economical translation services and those that are downright cheap.  Be wary of bargain basement translations, as this might be a sign that the freelancer or agency doesn’t provide the highest quality translations.  On the other hand, just because a translator has low prices doesn’t mean that they will give you a shoddy translation.  It may just mean that they are starting out and don’t have the years of experience that allow them to command higher prices.

Just as with any other service, you will need to shop around, ask questions, and go with your gut.  If you choose wrong the first time and end up unhappy with the service, there are thousands of high-quality, well-priced agencies and freelancers that would be thrilled to have your business.

A Primer for Translation Buyers: Part One

As a potential translation buyer, you have probably already decided that you need some of your materials translated into one or more foreign languages.  Your company may also do business internationally so you need correspondence or business plans translated for your partners and clients abroad.  This two-part article will guide you through the nuts and bolts of working with translators so that you end up with the best finished product possible.

Interpretation vs. Translation

Most laypeople use the words interpretation and translation interchangeably when in fact they are very different and practitioners of each use different skill-sets.  Of course, both interpretation and translation deal with language, but the medium of the former is the spoken word and the latter the written word.

Translators work from a written document in the source language to render a document in the target languageInterpreters provide real-time translation of the spoken word, either over the phone, in large meetings or conferences, or in small-group settings.

Your company may need both translation and interpretation services, but don’t assume that your translator will be able to provide both for you.  This is because of the different skill-sets each service requires.  Great translators are exceptionally adept with the written word and interpreters with the spoken word.  While some translators also work as interpreters, this isn’t always the case.  Furthermore, you may be working remotely with a translator and in many instances, you’ll need an interpreter to work with you onsite.

For an excellent description of the differences between translation and interpretation, follow this link to a post on the Brave New World blog.

Understanding Pricing

Your translation agency or independent translator should always provide you with a price quote before beginning the project.

There are a few factors that will determine how much your translation will cost.  First, the length of the document and number of words is taken into account.  Translators can quote a price based on number of words/length of documents in three ways:

  • Number of words in source document
  • Number of words in final translated document (especially if the words in the source document cannot be counted, as in hard copy or scanned documents)
  • Number of pages in the source document

Other pricing considerations include:

  • The complexity or technical nature of the document (i.e. expect to pay more for a legal contract than a brochure describing services).
  • Value-added services such as Desktop Publishing.
  • Turn-around time (you will be charged a flat fee or a percentage of the base quote if you request a rush translation).

Transpanish’s next blog post will offer you tips on choosing the best translator.

Google Translation Center Announced to Online Community

The online translation community is abuzz with the news that Google has announced the start of a Google Translation Center.  The discussion revolves around two main questions: how exactly the service will work and how having an Internet giant like Google providing a platform for translation services will affect freelance translators’ business.

How Will Google’s Service Work?

Clients will be able to upload the documents they need translated and then choose from the price quotes that individual translators will provide.  Translators will use Google’s web-based tools to create and review translations and the “Translator’s Workbench” will provide translators with tools such as a revision history, a glossary, or a history of previous translations. Google, at least as currently explained, will simply serve as a middleman, coordinating services and providing the platform and tools for clients and translators alike.

Throughout the preliminary discussions, one topic on which everyone still seems unclear is that of Translation Memory (refer to previous Transpanish posts for an intro to TM here and here) and how Google will implement it.  It seems that Google wants to create a meta-TM through which individual translators will have access to all similar translations previously inputted into the system.  This raises the question of ownership (clients usually own the rights to translations input into TM, as they’ve paid for the translations) and quality of what is uploaded into the global TM (Google states that individual translators will be solely responsible for quality control of what they produce).

How Will the Service Affect Freelance Translators?

Since Google has not yet unrolled its Beta version, professional translators can only speculate on the effect that Google Translation Center will have on their business.  On the Proz Forum discussion of this topic, translators are understandably concerned about the quality of the output, especially since creating a solid, accurate TM takes time as texts are translated and fed into the system.

Google Blogoscoped offers a preliminary analysis of the service’s features and included screenshots of the tools that GTC will offer to the translator.  Access to these free tools (questions about the TM aside) could be very good news for freelancers and GTC may very well open up a world of freelance gigs to professional translators.  However, freelancers are concerned about whether potential clients will be willing to pay market rates for translations when looking for a translator on GTC.

Of course, the online translation community can only speculate on GTC’s effects on the translation industry until the service is actually rolled out.

To read more commentary on the service, read Brian McConnell’s blog post, “GTC: The World’s Largest Translation Memory.”

Bilingual Education in the U.S.

If your goal is to become fluent in another language, many times total immersion is the best practice. However, this is not the case for young recent immigrants in public schools because they also must become proficient in the subject matter of instruction. This is where bilingual education comes in.

Bilingual education and its alternatives have been up for political and moral debate. Its proponents posit that mastering English, literacy, and subject matter simultaneously is too overwhelming for most students and that a combination of instruction in one’s native language and in English is necessary for success. Its detractors state that bilingual education retards the mastery of English which in turn retards students’ acquisition of knowledge in all areas.

There are varying levels and approaches to bilingual education, roughly broken into the following strategies:

  • Transitional: the goal is to transition English language learners into English-only classrooms as quickly as possible and provides content instruction in the student’s native language while they learn English.
  • Two-Way or Dual Language: these programs are designed to teach both native English and non-native English speaking students to be bilingual and biliterate.
  • Specialized Dual Language: subjects are taught in the students’ second language with bilingual teachers who can field students’ questions when they need assistance in their native language. Literacy instruction in students’ native language is also provided separately.
  • Late-Exit or Developmental: Students are educated in their native language for an extended period of time, complemented by education in English.

The debate over bilingual education takes place within a larger political and social context, which may be to the detriment of students’ acquisition of knowledge of both English and material in content areas. Furthermore, while bilingual education might be effective practice in areas of the country where there are fewer native languages spoken, the system becomes unwieldy and impossible in areas where immigrants come from all over the world.

For more resources on bilingual education, both for and against, follow these links:

National Association for Bilingual Education

Twisted Tongues: The Failure of Bilingual Education

The Case Against Bilingual Education

California Association for Bilingual Education

Spanglish in the United States

There’s language as it appears in grammar books and there’s language as it’s truly spoken every day. The way that bilingual Spanish and English speakers in the United States combine the two languages is a perfect example of this phenomenon. In every day vernacular, people use the term Spanglish to describe the mixing of the two languages. But from a linguistic perspective, the term Spanglish lumps together several different ways of using the two languages under this umbrella.

Below are brief descriptions of a few terms linguists use to describe the linguistic phenomena many understand to be hallmarks of Spanglish:

1. Code-switching: when bilinguals use elements of both languages in conversation, either between sentences or within a single sentence.
2. Loanword: a word directly taken from another language with little or no translation.
3. Language contact: borrowing vocabulary and other language features from another language.

While Spanglish is not yet considered a separate language as Haitian Creole or Cape Verdean Creole is, scholars are beginning to take its use more seriously as the number of bilingual Latinos in the U.S. grows. Many continue to distrust Spanglish because of its status of not quite English and not quite Spanish.

But Ilan Stevens, author of Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language, speaks to the value of Spanglish:

“Latinos are learning English,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that they should sacrifice their original language or that they should give up this in-betweeness that is Spanglish. Spanglish is a creative way also of saying, ‘I am an American and I have my own style, my own taste, my own tongue.'”
(from: Spanglish, A New American Language : NPR)

For more online resources about Spanglish:

Don Quixote de La Mancha: Spanglish version
NPR interview with Ilan Stevens

Examples of Spanglish

Spanglish Spanish English
breaka frenos brakes
carpeta alfombra carpet
chequear verificar to check
glasso vaso glass
ganga pandilla gang
likear gotear to leak
mailear enviar coreo to mail
marketa mercado market
norsa enfermera nurse
puchar empujar to push
ruffo techo roof
signear firmar to sign