Overcoming Challenges and Achieving the Perfect Translation

In my last post, “Common Challenges for Spanish to English Translators,” I wrote about some of the challenges faced specifically by Spanish to English translators on a daily basis. However, it is important to note that for a translator these obstacles are anything but discouraging. Rather, they actually have the opposite effect. They’re part of what makes the translator’s job enticing and stimulating – to the translator at least– as many non-translators would surely find the idea of producing a perfect translation exceptionally tedious and boring. In any case, many translators approach a particularly challenging translation just like a mathematician might approach a difficult math problem. They actually enjoy diving into the text and testing themselves by solving particularly complicated translation “problems,” and then basking in the satisfaction induced by producing the perfect translation.

Let’s take a look at some more of these challenges.

Syntactic ambiguity

This aspect of the language pair is often the root of much frustration. In Spanish, it is not necessary to include the subject as a noun or pronoun that modifies the verb in a sentence when, supposedly, it can be implied who the subject is. In English, on the other hand, we must always include a noun or pronoun in each sentence that modifies the verb. This can often cause confusion because it is not always clearly communicated in the text or easy to deduce who exactly the actor is. Often, translators must re-read parts of the text and base their decision on how to translate the phrase based on the context.


The issue of gender in this case is related to the syntactic ambiguity of Spanish. In addition to not always being necessary in Spanish to clearly state the subject in a sentence, indirect objects also lack gender, which furthers the syntactic ambiguity of the language. So, for example, the simple sentence in English “He told her” could be expressed in Spanish with a subject and gender “Él le dijo a ella,” or without either, “Le dijo.” In the latter, it is not clear whether either person is male or female. Obviously in more complicated contexts this can get pretty confusing.

Variety of dialects and vocabulary

The Spanish language is especially unique because it is spoken in such a large quantity of countries around the world and across several continents, where the history, culture and daily life varies greatly. Therefore, the Spanish language varies considerably and while so much variety can be quite intriguing, it can also cause quite a headache for translators. Often, it is informal language which varies the most (this is seen mostly by translators who translate popular media, such as subtitles for movies and TV shows), but even formal and legal language can vary greatly from country to country. The Spanish to English translator must be aware of these variations and be prepared to look up and research unknown terms.