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Top 10 Commonly mistranslated words from English to Spanish.

Spanish and English are languages that have close similarities between them, for example, it is estimated that the grammatical structure of English is similar to that of Spanish in more than 90%. In addition, these languages have coincided in periods of development and in relatively close geographic spaces, which explains the existence of words practically spelled the same way in English as in Spanish.

Despite their tight relationship, the English-Spanish pair is specially affected by a language variation that occurs in the translation process. Such variation is referred to as “false friends”, i.e. words with very similar or identical spellings, but with different meanings between the two languages.

At Australis we make sure that all our translations are accurate and truthful with respect to the original documents provided by our customers. This is why we have put together the following Top 10 of those words that are commonly mistranslated and whose meanings change radically from one to another. Let’s get started!

#10 Fish or fruit? The tuna case.

The word “tuna” is a very misleading word to translate, especially if it is into Mexican Spanish. Why? Because tuna in this country is a popular, very thorny green fruit obtained from the cactus family, also known in English as prickly pear; while on the other hand, tuna as we know it, is called in Spanish as “atún”. No matter which one you prefer, they are both delicious!


#9 I didn’t realize Spanish was this difficult.

When you realize that the Spanish word “realizar” implies the accomplishment of something rather than having knowledge of it, you begin to understand that translating is an activity that involves a high level of judgment, reading comprehension and language proficiency, since words that seem similar may have very different meanings from one another.


#8 Dressed to translate. 

In Spanish, the word “fábrica” refers to a factory, or an industrial production business; for example, a fabric factory that manufactures clothes. Similar writing: yes. Similar meaning: Not even close!


#7 The mistranslation that became a meme.

In Latin America, an English language teaching company ran a successful marketing campaign through a TV commercial in which one of its characters was totally ignorant about the English language. What was the key ingredient? This character was unable to understand the difference between the words “éxito” (success) and “exit”, which triggered a series of funny conversations. Such was the popularity of this campaign that it even became a well-known meme in Internet.


#6 What do you prefer? A billion dollars or a “billón” dollars?.

Although billion and “billón” are very similar in spelling and pronunciation, as numerical or monetary units they are totally different magnitudes. For example, the billion used in the English language corresponds to the unit followed by nine zeros, which could be correctly translated to Spanish as “mil millones” (one thousand million). On the other hand, the “billon” used in Spanish is the unit followed by 12 zeros (therefore corresponds to one million million). Thus, a “billón” is a larger number or quantity than a billion. A bit complicated, isn’t it?


#5 A different kind of joy.

Learning a new language is a unique experience because when you start to recognize words or understand conversations you are totally excited about it as you become more and more proficient. However, if you wish to explain this sensation in Spanish, better not to use the word “excitado”, because although it is similar to the word excited, this word refers to the provocation or stimulation of a feeling or passion; that is, it is used for more intense and intimate emotions.


#4 A medical mistranslation.

For inexperienced translators, the concept of childbirth can be difficult to translate. Why? Because in Spanish the word “labor” can be translated as “mano de obra” (a kind of work force). This is totally correct, but that’s an example of the importance of understanding that contexts matter too much when dealing with languages. The word “parto” would be the correct translation for labor, but only if it is being used in the field of obstetrics or medicine in general: If we were talking about companies, production forces or economy, “mano de obra” would be correctly applied. Both imply physical effort, but they are not the same thing.


#3 Fortuitous events, different meanings.

As we have seen previously, the fact that two words are similar does not mean they mean the same thing; in this case, the Spanish word “casualidad” is very similar to casualty; however, far from referring to an injured person, it is related to the probability of an occurrence. Both can be related to an unexpected event, but there is a big difference between the probability of it and being an actual victim.


#2 Don’t get angry, argue!.

If two people disagree and get too enraged they can find themselves in an argument, which can lead to a major conflict. However, in Spanish the word “argumento” is used for a situation almost contrary to the one described above: that is, a reasoning that proves, disproves or justifies something, usually as part of a civilized, non-violent discussion. However, it should be noted that “argument” as a word of the English language, can also be used to express a reason, and we can see this word most often used in the legal context.


#1 Actually, Spanish is more complicated than it seems.

This is one of the words that brings the most conflict to translators as well as to Spanish speakers who are just learning to speak English. “Actualmente” might seem that its direct translation is “actually”, however, it would be “currently”. What’s the difference? In Spanish “actualmente” refers to something that is happening right now or recently, while “actually” is more commonly used to express that something is true and real, the correct Spanish expression for that would be “en realidad”. That being the case, avoid this common misconception and understand that actually and “actualmente” evoke two different ideas.

We hope this top 10 of commonly mistranslated words has been to your liking.!

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