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What’s Happening With Spanish Translation in the U.S?

Last updated on May 19th, 2023 at 05:30 pm


Spanish Mistranslations Are a Serious matter

How many times have we shared a Spanish mistranslation because it was funny or didn’t make sense? These mistranslations are a result of lack of attention to details, under preparation, and in some cases ignorance by the person requesting the work regarding the proper steps to follow or  even hiring the wrong resources for the job. Most of the time, translation is perceived as an expense, instead of a means of providing opportunities to sell their services and products to other markets and demographics.

For instance, we have opportunities to sell to Spanish speakers in the US because our website has been well translated into Spanish.  Because of this, we can be found on the internet by individuals from Spanish speaking countries and the Hispanic Market in the USA, and we are able to serve them in the Spanish language when they call us. We have developed marketing campaigns and emails and different content in Spanish to serve our Spanish Speaking customers.


Lack of Spanish Translation for Tourists

Recently I took a partner from Spain and his wife, who doesn’t speak English, on an Architectural River Cruise in Chicago. At the end of the boat ride,  my partner’s wife said to me, since you work in a translation company you should offer your services to these people, a Spanish brochure of this beautiful tour will be a nice touch for the people like me who do not understand what the guide is saying. This is an example of an oversight from a company that has popular tourist attractions but do not serve their Spanish Speaking tourists.


Company using MT without validating Translation

Last month, in my visit to a well known home improvement company  I was pleasantly surprised to find they had bilingual signage around the store. My pleasant surprise was quickly changed into confusion upon reading a huge sign that didn’t make sense to me. It took me a while to understand what it was trying to convey since my brain was very confused by the message. It was clear that they used machine translation for the sentence.  “Free” was translated as “Freedom of”, a  choice made by the Machine which resulted in this mistranslation; “Libertad de Servicios Cortantes” instead of  “Servicio de Corte de Vidrio Gratis” which would be the correct translation. 

The company invested time and money  to produce and install the signage, but the message was wrong! They didn’t convey the intended message because the translation process was not handled properly.  The machine translation produced an incorrect message and nobody with knowledge of the Spanish language reviewed or revised the translation. An extra step would have helped the company avoid the problem, just by having a 2 minute proofreading by a knowledgeable editor.

The message was not communicated well, but the error itself sends its own message: We don’t care enough about whether or not our Spanish speaking customers can understand our message.

Below are three examples of School zones and public areas where the bilingual communication was not achieved.
bad spanish translation signagetranslating spanish wrong smoke free signspanish mistranslation tennis court



Why is this happening in the US  with translations from English into Spanish? It is puzzling, especially considering that the Spanish speaking market is growing and is now 16% of the USA population. By 2050 the USA is projected to have more Spanish speaking people than Mexico.

Maybe one of the answers is that companies are looking for a short cut or are hiring  low cost translation services. Sometimes, purchasing the cheapest product such as candy- is okay.  But when it comes to reliable translation services, going with the lowest cost without truly understanding the language requirements of your target audience can bring down your business’ image and damage customer relationships. 

If this is happening with Spanish Translation, what could be happening with other languages? Languages like Chinese and Hebrew bring their own unique set of challenges. Some of the examples shown are funny, but there are also tragic cases and critical situations where Spanish legal translations and Spanish medical translations were not provided with the care and experienced resources required.

As a final comment, the importance of hiring professional, qualified translators, and implementation of quality control for translation agencies is not a fad or trend, neither is it a marketing trick to generate more costs. In the globalized society that we are living in, professional translation and localization services are a need of first order to compete and stay ahead in a world without borders.


Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela and has a BS in computer engineering. As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. 20 Years of experience in marketing Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.