Three specialized translation types and how they’re different

Translation is often discussed as one cohesive field. But in reality, the translation umbrella encompasses a wide range of more specific areas, each with its own set of responsibilities and demands. Translating a poem or novel requires great artistry and allows a lot of interpretive leeway, while translating the record of a criminal trial calls for detailed knowledge of legal terms and as literal a translation as possible. Below are three common fields within translation and a look at how they are unique.

Journalistic translation

One common area of translation is journalistic translation: the translation of articles for newspapers or magazines. This type of work occurs when a publication wants to offer a story to a new audience, or when the original audience is multilingual. This type of translation has a number of challenges beyond simply exchanging words.

While journalism aims in theory to be completely objective, most publications and writers have a slant, politically and/or in register (formal versus casual). Anybody who studies media knows that few words are neutral and certain word choices, while seemingly arbitrary, actually say a lot. For example, in the US, there is a big difference between “illegal aliens” and “undocumented workers”. While both terms have the same technical definition, one suggests the author favors stricter immigration policy while the other implies support for leniency and more accessible pathways to citizenship.

Journalistic translation

Journalist translation can be a tricky business

The job of a translator is not to agree or disagree with the tone of the original text, but to transcreate a text that preserves that tone. Beyond careful reading of the text, it also helps to do some research on the source publication, reading through other articles it has published in the past. Once the translator has a good sense of the voice, they can seek out similar publications in the target language. This can be a great source of guidance in word choice if they’ve written on the same topic.

A journalistic translator must also consider whether localization methods are needed to make the translated text accessible. For example, I once worked on translating a Spanish article about Spain’s presidential election into English, to be read by American passengers on an airline. I had to think about the fact that while the original readers of the piece would see the name “Mariano Rajoy” and immediately understand, Americans would be lost without more information—who Rajoy was, his history in the government, what party he was in, and even a bit about the Spanish election process. Translators call this strategy “amplification.” On the other hand, if I were translating a European article about the US presidential race into English for an American audience, I could cut out any explanatory details about American politics, which the new audience would already know. This is called “omission.”

Legal translation

Legal translation is a very serious business. It often involves translation of legal documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, wills and contracts produced in a country outside of the one where a legal affair is being conducted. Translators who take on these jobs are legally responsible for the accuracy of their work and could face serious repercussions for mistakes as they could be seen as deliberate attempts to meddle in a case. Even something as small as a difference in how the translated page is formatted could be an issue. Legal translators therefore take their job very seriously and must do a great deal of research to be sure they understand their source text. For example, different cultures have a wide variety of conventions about names. So when translating a birth certificate, it can be tricky to clarify which is a family name (last name), a given name (first name), a middle name, etc. Or when translating a record of a student in a foreign school system, research might be needed to understand the grading system and the names for each class year.

Getting legal translation right

Getting legal translation wrong can seriously affect a case

It can sometimes be challenging in these situations to decide if amplification is appropriate. For example, once I was trying to translate a Spanish report card and came across a grade notation that roughly translated to “distinguished.” What I learned was that this grade was actually a major honor awarded to only the top tier of students, accompanied by the waiving of tuition for one class the following year. I had to decide whether to try to convey this insight to other English readers who would likely miss the nuance, or just trust the text to speak for itself. I compromised by translating it as “distinguished with honor,” which suggests it’s more than just a good grade.

Medical translation

Another field where accuracy is vitally important is in medicine. Healthcare providers want to be sure their patients understand everything they need to know, so they often provide information about a condition, resource options, and home care instructions in a variety of languages. Many doctors won’t have the language expertise to double-check the facts in a translated pamphlet, so a medical translator must be rigorous in their research. You don’t want to tell a patient to get lots of exercise when they should be on bed rest, or to treat an injury with a hot pack when they should be using ice.

Localization, as always, is important in medical translation. In some cultures, doctors always use the scientific names for ailments, while in the US, someone in need of a partial hip replacement would be confused and frustrated if you told them they needed a hemiarthroplasty.

Another important consideration for medical translators is which words in the source language a reader will need to know. If you’re translating treatment instructions for patients who live in the same region as the medical office that produced the source text, those patients might need to walk into a local pharmacy and search the shelves for a specific medication or health product; and those items will be labeled in the local language. For instance, a French speaker in London wouldn’t be able to walk into a store and find an antitussif—they would need to know to look for a cough suppressant. Conversely, if your translated text will be read in a culture removed from where the original was produced you may need to research what a remedy would be called there.

names for cold medicine in different languages

Medical translations are different for consumers than for suppliers

Since every type of writing—from road signs to restaurant menus—must occasionally be translated, the spectrum of specialized translation fields is vast. Each field of focus will have its own needs and considerations. Good translators strive to find their areas of strength and master them, always thinking one step ahead to make a transcreated text as seamless and clear as possible.

Four famous names you didn’t realize were English translations

There are a lot of languages in the world, and most of us speak very few of them. So in order to understand the world’s rich histories, a lot of translation is required that we don’t even notice. Good translators ensure this, striving to make the finished text seamless.

But one implication of this always stops me in my tracks when I think about it: the fact that so many people we learn about wouldn’t have called themselves by the same name we do. Every region has its own set of common names, and people outside of that culture often have a hard time wrapping their heads around names that aren’t familiar. Consequently, many names have been adapted over the years to flow better with each language. Below are four famous figures who you may not have realized were assigned exonyms for English speakers.

Jesus Christ

The hard J sound used in English for “Jesus” does not appear in every language and is not used in Hebrew or Aramaic, Hebrew’s ancient relative and the language spoken by one of history’s all-time biggest superstars. This logic quickly leads us to realize that translation has been at play. Jesus was likely known to his contemporaries as “Yeshua,” or “Yehoshua.” As for his surname, “Christ” is a derivative of a Greek word meaning “anointed,” and started out as an honorific before slowly being accepted as an extension of the name itself.

Jesus Christ real name

Jesus went by a very different name

Jesus’s name is a prime example of something called an “exonym”: a name used only in cultures outside the place of origin, whether for a person, group of people, place, or language. Pretty much every city and country has a full set of exonyms, a translation for its name in each language (we hardly ever call a foreign place by the name its citizens call it). But exonyms for personal names are less ubiquitous. The opposite of an exonym is an “endonym”: the name used within the original culture.

Carved writing in Aramaic

An example of Aramaic

The Bible was typically one of the first texts to be translated into an isolated language (indeed, much progress in the field of translation has historically been led by Christian missionaries), so it’s no surprise that this particular name is rich in global variations. Yet in almost every language, the skeleton of the same ancient terms and sounds are recognizable in the name used for the Christian messiah—shifted and manipulated in such a way to accommodate the sounds of each language.

Christopher Columbus

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue; that bit of history is pretty widely agreed upon. In recent years, however, everything else about his story has become the subject of debate. Many American primary schools are rethinking how the story of the country’s formation is presented to children. But there’s a huge discrepancy hiding at the very beginning of the story: the blue-sea sailor’s name.

Christopher Columbus real name

Christopher Columbus wouldn’t respond to the name English speakers know

I first confronted this issue years ago when a Spanish teacher referred to Columbus as “Cristobal Colón.”

“Oh, of course,” I thought, “It was in Spain that he approached the king and queen to ask for their sponsorship of his journey, so naturally he would have a Spanish name and not an English one.” I was only half right. Christopher Columbus is an exonym, but the endonym is less clear. While his funding came from the Spanish royals, he actually hailed from Genoa, which is now part of Italy. This has led many to believe his name at birth was the Italian “Cristoforo Colombo.” Others suggest the Genoese “Christoffa Corombo” or some other entirely unrelated Genoese name, which he might have chosen to change to Colombo. Then, when he moved to Spain, he translated it to Colón. So my Spanish teachers were correct all along and everybody is moderately confused. Given how much confusion is already at large about the man, maybe it’s just as well the world has let this detail remain unresolved…

Mona Lisa

Leonardo Da Vinci’s most iconic portrait of an enigmatically smiling woman is commonly referred to as the “Mona Lisa.” And since Mona is a familiar name, it’s easy to assume the title of the painting is her given name. But prepare to have your world slightly shaken: “Mona” is not a name, but a polite Italian prefix, a shortened and slurred form of ma donna, “my lady” (also, in Italian, it’s spelled with two “N”s. We English speakers just need to change everything, don’t we?)

Mona Lisa real name

This isn’t a translation, per se—more like a lack of one where it might have been useful. My lady Lisa’s full and unembellished name was Lisa del Giocondo. Even this fact wasn’t always clear, as apparently Da Vinci didn’t mark her identity. Experts didn’t feel confident about it until 2005, when an outside observer’s writing about it was discovered. Da Vinci didn’t even give the portrait its title. He had been dead for over 30 years before it began to be consistently called the “Mona Lisa.” It is also sometimes referred to as La Gioconda, a play on Lisa’s surname and a term for one with a sunny disposition. In France, where the “Mona Lisa” hangs at the Louvre, this alternate title is in turn translated to the synonymous La Joconde.

Cinderella

It’s common knowledge that most of the fairy tales that populate Disney’s collection started off as very old stories; often very creepy stories that few parents would dream of popping into a DVD player for their children. But age-appropriateness isn’t the only thing that has changed over the years as some stories are passed from culture to culture.

19th century drawing of Cinderella

An illustration of Cinderella from 1865.

Most every English speaker is well-acquainted with Cinderella, but few would register recognition of a girl named Ye Xian. Yet they’d surely recognize her story: a girl victimized by a cruel stepmother, assisted by magic to attend a ball where she finds a handsome royal man but loses a slipper before ultimately reuniting her with her love. Instead of a prince, she marries a king. And instead of a fairy godmother, she has the bones of a magic fish. Still, it’s striking how little else is different in this narrative from ninth-century China.

Indonesia has Bawang Putih, and a magic swing instead of a lost slipper. Korea tells the story of Kongjwi, who makes it to the ball thanks to an ox and a toad. In parts of the Middle East, Maah Pishànih is less of a role model, as she herself is responsible for her mother’s untimely death, but she does follow in the tradition of imperfect shoe sizing and is identified by her suitor with a lost slipper.

It’s fascinating how this multilingual figure has traversed the globe, always with similar challenges and adventures, but different names. Clearly, people in every culture like to imagine rising from bleak beginnings to enchanted triumph. And losing a piece of footwear along the way.

 

Getting to know cultures beyond our own is key to enriching our world. It’s wonderful that we have so many opportunities to do so, now more than ever. Translation builds these bridges by enabling us to recognize the familiar in the foreign—by overcoming language barriers and connecting humanity to humanity, narrative to narrative. Still, names are peculiarly powerful. Learning how a person might have been identified in the community they came from is a fascinating way to come just a little closer to the heart of a story.

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9 keys to writing advertorials that drive sales

The effectiveness of ramming your product down people’s throats through direct print promotions and online ads is dwindling as consumers become wiser to advertisers clamoring for their attention and hard-earned cash.

Enter the advertorial: a portmanteau of the words “advertisement” and “editorial.” Also known as native advertising, sponsored content or branded content, the advertorial aims to engage the reader and convince them to use a product or service while not scaring them away with a more traditional “salesy” ad.

Today, savvy readers can spot an ad from a mile away and they don’t like to be sold to. For this reason, using advertorials as part of your content marketing strategy must be approached as more of a slow seduction. It’s more like buying the reader a drink and chatting (valuable content) rather than sending them running to the hills with an instant marriage proposal (“Buy now!”).

Advertisers are well-aware of the impact of advertorials, as sponsored posts are expected to earn a whopping $21 billion in 2018, a huge upsurge compared to 2013’s $4.7 billion.

Publishers like BuzzFeed, Wall Street Journal and Mashable are all cashing in on the custom content bandwagon, while Condé Nast launched its branded content studio 23 Stories on the back of its long history of advertorial success.

But what makes a good advertorial, why is it more effective than traditional advertising, and how can you convert more readers into customers?

1. Focus on good content

The key selling point of the advertorial is the credibility it has “borrowed” from the publication it appears in. Readers will effortlessly buy into a good advertorial with a strong focus on valuable content that dedicates only 20-30% to promoting the product or brand (they shouldn’t mind this if they just got a decent amount of good content for free).

When an advertorial offers really useful content, it has a much bigger potential to be shared or perhaps cut out/printed and put on display. You don’t see people doing that with standard ads. Creating content this good increases the chances of your content being read the whole way through and ultimately the likelihood of the reader responding to your call to action.

Take BuzzFeed. Their fun advertorials fit seamlessly into their editorial style and don’t sell without offering easily accessible value.

Buzzfeed advertorial

Image source: http://www.postadvertising.com/2012/12/buzzfeed-native-advertising/

There’s actually a lot of content on this page promoting Discovery Channel, but none of it looks out of place in terms of BuzzFeed’s style. In fact, if it weren’t for the byline referring to the client, you might be forgiven for not even noticing it’s sponsored. It could easily be posted on Buzzfeed’s social media channels and still not look like an ad.

2. Write an engaging headline

Remember the aim here is to position your advertorial alongside the rest of the high-value content in the newspaper, magazine or website. Your headline needs to hook the reader in the same way any other article on the page would.

Advertorial headline

Image source: http://www.directcreative.com/blog/advertorial-space-ads

The advertorial above has gone to great lengths to look like a news article, but its desperate attempt to sell makes it about as effective as a standard promo. An article with a headline like, “CleanCo’s latest product is blowing consumers away” screams advertisement. While it might look newsworthy with its mention of the “latest” product, it’s clearly been written for the benefit of the client and not the reader. Something like, “Nine DIY stain removers that’ll probably work (and one that definitely will)” grabs the reader’s attention and may even see them skip straight to No. 10, which just so happens to be the client…

Like any good sales strategy, your headline should instantly create a need to find out more by eliciting an emotional response; just make sure you follow through in the content.

3. Understand the client’s product

A good advertorial copywriter will be able to sound knowledgeable on the subject he’s writing about, even though he may be new to it. A great advertorial copywriter will know his client’s product inside out and will have conducted interviews to add further credibility and color.

When researching what the advertorial is selling, ask every “stupid” question that crosses your mind. These will probably be questions you might feel uncomfortable asking the client such as, “Wouldn’t it be simpler if your product just did X” or, “Doesn’t X product already solve that problem?” If the questions occur to you, you can be sure they will occur to a decent percentage of your readers as well.

Get in front of these doubts and inoculate your client’s credibility within your content.

4. Study the publication

If your advertorial is to blend seamlessly with the publication, you’re going to have to do your homework and learn how to mimic the style. A newspaper might call for a standard editorial style, while a listicle or guide could be a better fit for web content. It might be one-page long or six. It could include a short video.

Skincare advertorial

Image source: https://buzzazz.com/advertising-and-marketing/what-is-an-advertorial

This advertorial for Simple offers an easily digestible read with tons of useful info for skincare (it just so happens that those tips involve Simple products). Its style wouldn’t be out of place in a women’s health or fashion magazine and it in no way attempts to hide the fact that it’s an ad with a clear logo and call to action at the end.

Once you’ve got the style down, also consider that every publication will have different policies when it comes to advertorials, such as the obligation to include the word “Advertisement” or “Sponsored” at the top of the page.

If you get all this right and have a proven track record of producing high-quality advertorials, some smaller publications might even offer you cheap or free space in exchange for valuable content.

5. Use a byline and photos

Making it clear that the piece was written by a bona fide journalist or expert in the field will give your advertorial credibility, particularly if the name is recognized by readers. Original photos with captions will also help your article blend into a standard news style.

Some media channels will have a policy of using the client’s name as the byline to distinguish it from genuine editorial content. Try to negotiate the all-important human-being angle, but understand the publisher’s objective to maintain its integrity.

6. Make your advertorial digestible

According to a Microsoft Corporation study, the average person today has an attention span of just eight seconds. That’s lower than a goldfish.

With that in mind, don’t present the reader with a huge block of text that would require them to consider whether or not they want to invest time in reading it. Use subheaders throughout the content and break it up with good-looking images and side boxes that make it easy to eat up every word you dish out.

Listicles are a great way to do this as readers can still scan through the salient points and get to the call to action even if they can’t be bothered to read it all.

7. Tell a story

Story is perhaps the most fundamental reason why we might choose to sell through an advertorial rather than a standard full-color ad. While great marketers are able to successfully use storytelling in their advertising creatives, taking the time to really engage with the reader and get them to buy into you is what sets an advertorial apart.

Telling a story allows you to tap into human emotions in a way that simple facts and figures tend not to. This is why the advertorial has often been the preferred marketing strategy for weight-loss and insurance companies, as it’s very easy for them to sell a feeling and not a product.

Weight-loss advertorial

Image source: http://www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/portfolio.php

Weight-loss companies never directly sell a program or milkshake; they’re selling self-esteem, lifestyle and physical beauty. They tap into the reader’s emotional pain in these areas and agitate it, creating villains in the form of confectioners and fast-food restaurants, then offer a solution while firmly establishing you as the hero of the tale.

The above example may be a little in your face, but it immediately addresses all the obstacles most people face when trying to get into shape and agitates the problem with hurtful insults many overweight people will have heard before. It makes the reader feel understood and keen to read on for the solution.

8. Sprinkle with quotes

Quotes are a great way to tell the reader how great the product is without screaming it at them directly. Aim to get second opinions through interviews with experts in the field and not just happy customers, because for all the reader knows, they were paid to say nice things about it.

Also, be sure to ask questions that elicit color and engage the reader emotionally. If you’re interviewing the pharmacist that designed the new wonderdrug your client wants to market, bear in mind they might find the list of ingredients fascinating and won’t consider that all your average consumer cares about is results. Instead, ask questions like, “What does this drug mean for your average person suffering from X?” or “What was the most mind-blowing result of your clinical trials?”

9. Open and close with a bang

Advertorials must give the reader a compelling reason to read past the headline; there’s your first big challenge. But on top of that, your piece must finish with an even more compelling argument for them to go out and spend money on something they might not have even been aware they wanted five minutes before.

Hooking your audience and developing a narrative that keeps them reading until the end is imperative if they’re going to get to the call to action at the bottom. And it goes without saying your call to action must be clear, simple and contain any necessary contact details or webpages.

 

If you take one thing away from this guide, let it be the focus on offering value to the reader. Avoid any sneaky tactics you think people won’t notice like cramming web content with so many keywords it’s a chore to read or ignoring best practices in terms of titling the piece as an “advertorial” where necessary. Hell hath no fury like a reader scorned. They’ll flag you as spam, post negative comments or even write in to complain. On the flip side, a happy reader will share the article with their friends, put it up in their bar or help to build an online community around it.
At VeraContent, we know which one we’d prefer.

Is there still a place for storytelling?

The words “once upon a time” always leave us wanting more. No matter our age or maturity level, storytelling stirs our imaginations. We know that the story about to be told has the potential to transport us to another time and place, far from the weight of our own reality.

Human beings exclusively possess the ability to reason. We process information, infer, and form conclusions. This urge to make sense of the world around us is often attempted through storytelling. For example, we face our problems by relating to characters that have had similar experiences. This is why we are quick to remember the morals of well-known stories. Who won the race between the tortoise and the hare? 

storytelling

Techniques of storytelling

Storytelling is accessible to each one of us, and we engage this resource more often than we might think. We set the scene when we allude to the structure of a presentation before we begin. We lean on the pillars of storytelling when we use descriptive adjectives to spice up a sentence or add visual aids to engage the audience.

Oral transmission is the golden amber that fossilized storytelling. People around the world recognize references to El Dorado or the fountain of  youth. Even though there aren’t clear literary examples attached to these myths, we recognize the stories. Oral tradition has kept these tales alive, and will continue to give life to stories worth telling.

Making it memorable

Web content today aims to hit you hard enough to warrant a click. However, a click means nothing if the story you’re telling is forgettable. In the age of 140 characters or less, content has become more condensed than ever before. Don’t forget to tell great stories to keep readers engaged.
storytelling

Many companies have already gaged that the feelings associated with a product are much more appealing than descriptive facts and figures. Take the travel service company Momondo, who in 2016 released a study on the effects global travel has on character. In a short video, Momondo interviewed people from various parts of the world on their biases. Then, these people participated in a DNA test which would reveal their genetic makeup:

In this advertisement we watch various people take an individual journey deep into their family history. The story puts us face to face with relatable characters. We anticipate the reveal of the participant’s genealogy. Most importantly, we feel catharsis as the pain of the past is purified by the promise of travel and adventure.

Stories that matter

It is stories like these that encourage the absent-minded clicker to make connections with a new product. The results can seem forced or incoherent when companies try to integrating stories into content. To avoid this, choose stories that reflect your brand’s personality.

Storytelling in copy doesn’t have to be a work of fiction or a snippet of a murder mystery. In fact, most of the time, the best story is already staring you in the face. For example, American Express has created Open Forum as a platform for small business owners to connect and share experiences.

storytelling

Much of this content deals with fact-based methods to improve growth. However, part of this platform is dedicated to telling the real stories of small-business owners in a narrative style. This allows American Express to highlight the women and men behind the businesses.

Storytelling is a tool reserved for the human being. Whether it is through the cathartic act of writing down a narrative or sitting on the edge of your seat as a climactic scene reveals the murderer, we as humans will continue to feel energized by the transmission of stories. 

 

Photo courtesy of Blog Emailing

Transcreation matters: the importance of cultural context

As a lifelong lover of languages, I’ve long understood that regional nuances have a big impact on language. But, in my recent move from the US to Spain, I’ve still been astonished by how some words I always took for granted are out of place here.

As an American, throughout school my Spanish classes have primarily leaned towards Latin American iterations of the language, especially Mexican Spanish. We were given cursory reminders that things might be different in Spain, like zumo instead of jugo for “juice,” and we were halfheartedly taught the conjugations for the vosotros form (the informal “you all” used only in Spain). Yet now that I’m here, I’ve already come across some regional language differences I’d never learned before.  

In my work at VeraContent, I’ve learned how important it is to take cultural factors like social norms, figures of speech and popular imagery into account when working on a translation or localization project.

Ever heard of  KFC translating “finger-lickin’ good” to “eat your fingers off” in advertisements in China? Or, Pampers’s use of storks in their ads in Japan, where the cultural link between storks and babies doesn’t exist? Pitfalls like these can trip up even the most well-known brands, and the only way to avoid them is by fully addressing local context through a process we call “transcreation.” Transcreation experts rewrite the translated text to capture the original message and transmit it clearly to people living in the target market.

This could be a little concerning without context.

It’s hard to grasp the importance of this process until you have first-hand experience living abroad. Being in a new place and listening to the world around you lets you start to truly appreciate the nuance of regional language. To illustrate, here are some key variations I’ve noticed in European Spanish:

Say goodbye to “adios”

After “hola,” what Spanish word is more well-known than “adios”? Of all the things I worried about when coming to Spain, how to say goodbye was not one of them. And yet after a few days, I noticed that almost no native speaker ever said adios to me. They said “hasta luego,” “hasta mañana” if I’d be seeing them the next day, or even “chao,” but never the most basic of Intro-to-Spanish goodbyes. Finally one of my classmates told me she had noticed the same thing and been told that here in Spain, “adios” tends to imply a long, heartfelt goodbye, and is too intense to call over your shoulder to a teacher or grocery check-out person.

“Dime” isn’t a command

“Hola” fares better than “adios” in Spain, but there’s still one place you won’t often hear it: on the phone. With my expensive overseas SIM card, I haven’t been making many phone calls, but I often notice people around town answering their cell phones with a clipped “¡Dime!” (pronounced DEE-may), which essentially means “talk to me!” Other variations are the slightly more formal “Dígame” or a simple “¿Sí?” I’m not sure if this is a regional quirk or common across Spanish speakers, but as an American who already fears phone calls, it always strikes me as a high-pressure way to start a conversation. But here, it’s perfectly normal and not taken amiss.

Restaurants don’t have “baños”

The classic phrase for travelers to master in any new language is “where is the bathroom?” In America, we have a lot of euphemisms for the concept (“restroom,” “ladies room,” “facilities”), but they aim more to be delicate than to specify the type of bathroom. In Spain, it’s not impolite to ask a waiter where the restaurant’s baño is, but it might sound a little odd to them, as the word is mostly used for the kind of bathroom a house has, with a tub or shower. Public restrooms with just stalls and sinks are more often called “aseos,” or “servicios.”

Sometimes pictures really clear things up.

Calling someone guapa isn’t creepy… necessarily

On one of my first nights out in Madrid, I stopped at an ice cream stand to buy a snack for my way home. “Hola, guapa,” the attendant said casually. Guapa means pretty or attractive. As a woman out alone at night, it was hardly the worst of what I was braced for, but it put my guard up a little. However, a few days later one of my professors explained that in Spain “guapa” is a fairly common way to address a stranger, sort of like “hon” in English. There are women who find it offensive or misogynistic, but it’s not as aggressive as it might sound in direct translation. However, my professor also noted that the context and demeanor of the speaker has a lot to do with it: if a man sidles up to you on a dark street and calls you “guapa” while leering at you, you should probably follow your instincts and speed away.

“Republicano” isn’t the opposite of Democrat

This last term is getting into more complex territory, but has still been key for my understanding—or misunderstanding—in Madrid. As an American, when I hear that someone is a Republican, I assume they’re politically conservative. But here in Spain, a republicano is someone who thinks Spain should no longer have a king or a royal family, as opposed to a monarquista, who supports the current system of constitutional monarchy. This is a hot topic in Spain and not aligned cleanly with a specific party or a liberal/conservative binary. You can still say republicano to mean a member of the US Republican Party, but you’ll have to be sure to clarify what you’re talking about, although context will usually go a long way.

As proud as I am to be starting to catch on to these things, I’m sure I’m only at the beginning of the process of learning and understanding. The regional nuances of language can take a lifetime to master, especially as they’re always shifting and changing. Hopefully, though, this list will give a boost to anyone attempting to speak or write natural Spain-style Spanish, and offer a tiny glimpse into how dynamic language really is. Every language in every part of the world will have its own set of particularities, not only from country to country but between regions, cities, and sometimes even neighborhoods. This is why it’s crucial for translation and localization of any message to be handled by someone with comprehensive training in culturally-conscious transcreation.