Sunday, June 23, 2024

Avoid these common mistakes when translating from English to Spanish

When learning a new language, we often stumble upon phrases that seem straightforward to translate from English to Spanish, only to realize they can lead to confusion or sound odd. I’ve encountered this firsthand with friends who are learning Spanish. I often hear phrases like: “Realicé que estaba en otro lugar” (I realized I was in the wrong place), “no lo había realizado” (I hadn’t realized that), or “Oh! No problemo!” English to Spanish translation mistakes like these are very common, and can sometimes cause confusion for the listener.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big advocate of people communicating despite making mistakes and this has happened to me quite a lot while learning Italian, French and even English. It is a matter of trying. However, while their attempts at using these phrases can be endearing, I’ve found it helpful to guide them toward more natural expressions in my own language. 

In this article, we’ll explore four common English phrases and their incorrect or literal translations in Spanish, along with the reasons why they are wrong and the correct way to say them in Spanish.

Four common English to Spanish translation mistakes and how to avoid them


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Incorrect: “Actualmente”

Reason: “Actualmente” refers to the present moment in Spanish, while “actually” means “in reality” or “de hecho” in Spanish.

Correct Form: “En realidad” or “de hecho”

Example: “Actually, I’m not sure if I can make it to the party tonight.”

Translation: De hecho, no estoy segura si voy a lograr ir a la fiesta hoy.

No problem

Incorrect: “No problemo”

Reason: “Problemo” is not a word in Spanish. 

Correct Form: “Sin problema” or “no te preocupes”

Example: “No problem, I can help you with that.”

Translation: Sin problema, yo te ayudo con eso. 

To realize

Incorrect: “Realizar”

Reason: While “realizar” does mean “to realize” in some contexts, the meaning in Spanish for it is “to carry out” or “to perform.” “To realize” in the sense of understanding or becoming aware of something is better translated as “darse cuenta.”

Correct Form: “Darse cuenta”

Example: “I didn’t realize it was so late.”

Translation: No me di cuenta que era tan tarde.

Sometimes, two words might sound the same but have quite different meanings, which can be very confusing.

Can I have

Incorrect: “Puedo tener”

Reason: While “puedo tener” technically translates to “I can have,” it is not the correct and natural way to ask for something in Spanish. Instead, we use “me puede dar” or “me puede traer.”

Correct Form: “Me puede dar” or “me puede traer”

Example: “Can I have a glass of water, please?”

Translation: Me puede traer un vaso de agua, por favor?

By understanding and avoiding literal translations, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively and naturally in Spanish. Keep practicing, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – it’s all part of the learning process!

Paulina Gerez is a translator-interpreter, content creator, and founder of Crack The Code, a series of online courses focused on languages. Through her social media, she helps people see learning a language from another perspective through her fun experiences. Instagram: paulinagerezm / Tiktok: paugerez3 / YT: paulina gerez


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