Both German and Spanish are important languages in their own right and the fact that both are two of the most commonly used languages in the European Union means that there is a constant need for Spanish to German translation and vice versa. This article explores some of the challenges that Spanish/German translators must overcome.


The significance of Spanish and German as individual languages

Both Spanish and German are important languages, but for different reasons. Spanish is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, spoken by tens of millions of people in European Spain as well as hundreds of millions in a great swathe of the American continent from Mexico down to Chile and Argentina. Only Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, and Guyana in South America have other official languages. In addition, there are large Spanish-speaking communities in the Caribbean such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, and in the United States, where Spanish is by far the most commonly spoken language after English.

By contrast, German is only spoken in a few European countries, principally Germany itself, Austria, part of Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. There are also minority German-speaking communities in many other countries such as the U.S., Paraguay, Brazil, Australia, and Namibia. German as a language may not be as international as Spanish but it is the language of the most powerful economy in Europe.

The challenges of translating Spanish to German and vice versa

Spanish and German are both European languages in origin but have different ancestors and belong in different language families. Spanish is in the Romance language family together with Portuguese, Italian, French, and Romanian. German is part of the Germanic language family together with Dutch, English, and more remotely the Scandinavian languages of Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian.

From a translator’s point of view, there is a greater challenge involved whenever two languages in different language families are translated. The Spanish/Italian or German/Dutch translator has an easier time of it than the Spanish/German translator. Having said that, translating from Spanish to Korean, or German to Arabic or Chinese, is more challenging still, as these language pairs belong to language families that have even greater differences.

Differences in the alphabet

Both Spanish and German share most of the same letters as these two languages use Roman or Latin script. However, Germany has developed its own unique letters, while Spanish also has its own unique letter. In German, there is the letter ß, the eszett, while in Spanish there is the letter, ñ. German also uses vowel sounds with umlauts, such as ä, ö and ü.

Differences in dialect

Because Spanish is more widely spoken than German and has evolved different idioms and vocabulary in different places where it is spoken, this can present a challenge for the German to Spanish translator. A translation from German intended for a European Spanish audience may have to be amended for a U.S. Spanish or Latin American Spanish audience. The opposite is less true as although there are considerable colloquial and idiomatic differences between spoken German even in Germany itself, European use of German tends to be much more standardised in print.

Use of long compound words and abbreviations

German is notorious for its use of long compound words. These often convey precise meanings, so Spanish translators must be familiar with the use of compound word-formation. Many particularly long compound words in German often have their own specific abbreviations used in the text. Many translators whose native languages are not German often make use of a glossary or list of abbreviations for use when translating from or into German.