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Hi folks—I’m Daniel, one of Gengo’s language specialists for the Spanish to English language pairs. I first became fascinated by the Spanish language while living and studying in Spain and Chile.

This article is part of a series that explores common mistakes in various language pairs. We all learn from our mistakes—and so, it follows that we can learn even more from others mistakes! This article focuses on one common issue in Spanish to English language pairs: sentence length.

Long sentences

Spanish sentences can be up to 20% longer that their English translation counterparts, as Romance languages tend to use more words to express an idea. That’s not a problem in and of itself. However, it’s compounded by the fact that we see a lot of highly colloquial Spanish texts in these language pairs, such as transcriptions of conversations. Gengo’s quality guidelines require translators to fix grammatical errors where they are present in the source text, rather than carrying them over into their translations.

These texts often lack appropriate punctuation in the source language, with sentences containing many different ideas and sometimes running to 100+ words. Such sentences are very uncommon in English and don’t fit with readers’ stylistic expectations. Research also shows that longer sentences quickly become harder to read, particularly for readers with disabilities. When you write more, people understand less.

Consider this example:

  • Source: “ciertas escenas donde la edición esta muy bien hecha, las escenas donde el nuevo zorro esta en la fiesta y mira todo para investigar sobre la muerte de su padre, la escena que mas me gustó fue en donde rescata al hombre de la carcel, las ediciones, luces y todos esos detalles son muy buenos, las escenas de los caballos son muy buenas en conjunto con las escenas de las casas, me sorprende la calidad en la que estan hechas”
  • Translation: “Certain scenes where the editing is very well done, the scenes where the new Zorro is at the party and looking at everything to investigate the death of his father, the scene that I liked the most was when he rescues the man from jail, the editing, lights, and all those details are very good, the scenes with the horses are very good in conjunction with the scenes set in the houses, I am surprised at the quality of their composition.”

In this example, the sentence structure has been mirrored exactly from the source text. It results in an unnaturally long English sentence, which is difficult for the reader to parse.

This an alternative translation because much easier for the reader:

  • “Certain scenes where the editing is done very well: the scenes where the new Zorro is at the party and is looking at everything to investigate his father’s death. The scene I liked the most was when he rescues the man from jail. The editing, lights, and all those details are very good. The scenes with the horses are very good, as well as the scenes set in the houses. I am surprised at the quality of their composition.”

There are a few techniques you can use to avoid overly long sentences:

  1. Nida’s three steps of “analysis, translation and restructuring” are highly relevant when translating long sentences. The final step of restructuring the sentence is critical, where the translator adapts a rough first draft to the punctuation and stylistic conventions of the target language.
  2. Reading your translation out loud before submitting can help too. Take note of points in the text where you naturally pause. Consider whether your sentence needs splitting into two at this point, or else punctuating with a comma, semicolon or em dash.
  3. Use grammar and readability tools to analyse your work. Tools such as Hemmingway Editor highlight lengthy and complex sentences, making it easy to improve your work.

Thanks for reading; I hope you’ve found a spotlight on this particular challenge with these language pairs helpful. What other tools and techniques have you found to handle this common issue in Spanish to English texts? Comment below with your suggestions and experiences, and let us know what you think.

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