As English/Spanish bilingual voice actors, we often receive inquiries and quote requests for Spanish voiceover of already-existing recordings in English. Sometimes the copy hasn’t been translated, and the client asks us to help with that, but more often than not, they provide some sort of translation.
That “some sort” can vary wildly.
At best, it’s copy that has been translated professionally, with consideration given to economy of language. A straight translation of English to Spanish often yields as many as 1/3 more words, and it’s nice for us not to have to race through it.
At the other end of the spectrum is copy that has been run through some sort of computer translator. While this technology is improving, it’s still a long way from being able to being able to produce a natural, intelligible translation. One of our co-workers once used Google Translate to help her understand an email in Spanish. The person writing explained that she had been on tour with her father’s band, which Google translated as: “I’ve been of tour with my potato’s orchestra.”
Between the extremes of professional translation and Google, we often see translations apparently done by someone, perhaps a co-worker or employee of the client, who speaks Spanish, but not always very well. Many Americans of Hispanic descent grew up speaking Spanish at home, but being educated in this country, they never learned to write correctly in Spanish, and often their vocabulary is limited to what they used as kids speaking to their parents.
We always encourage clients to have their copy translated professionally. It makes our job much easier, allows us to be part of a quality product that we can be proud of, and keeps them from wasting money on a professional recording of an unprofessional translation.
So, assuming I’ve made the case for a professional Spanish translation, the question arises: What kind of Spanish? The answer depends on the intended purpose and audience.
As in English, throughout the Spanish-speaking world there are many regional accents and dialects.
• Mexican Spanish is widespread, especially in the Southwest, California and Texas. Mexicans and people of Mexican descent comprise most of the Spanish speakers in the U.S.
• In South Florida, most Spanish speakers come from a Cuban background.
• In the Northeast one is more likely to hear accents from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Central America.
Recordings, especially commercials, targeted to a limited geographical area, may feature regional accents reflecting the majority Hispanic population of that region.
But what about material targeted at a national or international market? In the commercial and entertainment world, producers long ago figured out that to reach a wider audience it made sense to use Spanish that was not regionally-specific, but more universally understandable and acceptable. This is often referred to as “Neutral,” “Neutral Latin American,” or “Standard” Spanish. I avoid the term “standard”, as there’s really no such thing – what’s standard in Latin America can be considered wrong in Spain, and vice versa. Whatever term you prefer, this variant has the following characteristics:
• It avoids regionally-specific vocabulary* in favor of words understandable to anyone from the Spanish-speaking world;
• It avoids regional accents; and
• It tends toward a less inflected read, avoiding the “sing-songiness” that characterizes many regional dialects.
While there are appropriate uses for regional Spanish in voiceovers, the advantages of using Neutral Spanish for reaching a wide audience are obvious.
With a professional, Neutral Spanish translation, and a professional recording, you maximize the impact your message will have with the most people possible. And for those of us in the communication business, reaching people with an effective message is what it’s all about.
*Here’s an example of regionally-specific vocabulary, from a children’s song I wrote about flying kites. For some reason, there are almost as many words for “kite” in Spanish as there are Spanish-speaking countries.