Which version of Spanish are books translated to?
March 26, 2010 6:29 AM   Subscribe

If I buy an English book that has been translated into Spanish, does it matter for which Spanish-speaking country it was translated? In other words, if my intention is to learn Castilian-Spanish, is it better to find book translated for Spain? If so, how do I find such books? How do you know what version of Spanish a book is based on?

The purpose is to find simple books with which I am already very familiar. Example: The Chronicles of Narnia. I've read them so many times, so I thought the Spanish version would be great for practicing/learning Spanish.
posted by verevi to Education (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't matter which country your book is from any more than if you were reading an English book from the UK. Some words will be different like "shower" in Mexico is "regadera" and in Spain it's "ducha" but fundamentally it'll be the same language regardless of where the translator is from. Just keep a dictionary handy.
posted by blue_bicycle at 6:43 AM on March 26, 2010

Seconding B_B, its not like they are going to write out the lisps.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:00 AM on March 26, 2010

Just to be clear, Castilian is the Spanish which is spoken throughout the world, and like previous posters have said, the written form doesn't vary so much between countries that it should matter. You're probably thinking of Catalunyan, as spoken in Barcelona. You would most likely only be able to find books in other Spanish languages (like Catalan, Galician, Basque, etc) if you were in a region in Spain where they are spoken. Outside of Spain, Castilian is the only language refered to as "Spanish".
posted by molecicco at 7:08 AM on March 26, 2010

This page is good at setting out some of the major differences. That said, Spanish is more different in pronunciation than in the written form. Also, translators will generally be keeping to standard Spanish rather than any country-specific slang. So I'd be surprised to see much difference in a translation produced in one country vs. another.

Probably the biggest difference, as mentioned in the page I linked, is the variation among forms of address which does vary a bit by country.

Other than that, as a native Mexican Spanish speaker I can relate that I've read books I thought were by a Mexican author only to discover the author was a Spaniard (Vila-Matas) and a Mexican author I was sure was a Spaniard (Fernando del Paso) so thats an indication I guess of how standard Spanish is.
posted by vacapinta at 7:15 AM on March 26, 2010

I also want to add that the answer to this question is not as obvious as people think.

If you had asked about Portuguese, I would have said that it is important whether you choose something translated for the Brazilian or European Portuguese market - the two actually have important grammatical and orthographical differences which would confuse the new learner. Spanish, though, for whatever reason, is remarkably consistent.
posted by vacapinta at 7:27 AM on March 26, 2010

It doesn't matter which country your book is from any more than if you were reading an English book from the UK.

I disagree with both parts of this. Of course it matters; the European versions of both languages are quite different from the American versions, and it's not just a matter of "a few words" (or of pronunciation, which of course is irrelevant here). If you read texts written for Mexicans or Argentines, you will absorb plenty of words and usages that will sound odd or unintelligible to a Spaniard. That's not to say you should avoid such texts, and in practice it may not be easy to tell (though place of publication should be a pretty good clue); anything you read in Spanish will improve your Spanish, which is the main thing. But it's simply not true that it "doesn't matter."
posted by languagehat at 8:48 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You may want to read the local newspapers in Spanish from countries such as Mexico, Spain, Honduras, Argentina, etc. This will give you an idea of the variety of written Spanish that is out there. Then you will be able to discern the type of Spanish you are reading in the books you want to get. Check out http://www.allyoucanread.com/
posted by MsKim at 9:08 AM on March 26, 2010

I've spent time working in a translation agency. One jargon phrase that was used at the time was "Universal Spanish": this meant to direct the translator to deliver language that was acceptable in any environment and to avoid regionalisms. There were many varieties that could be selected by the customer for specific markets, the big ones being Spain, Mexico and Argentina, at least for the customers we were serving.

In documentation for medical devices, regionalisms were to be absolutely avoided at all costs. But for marketing/advertising, they might be very desirable, depending on what you wanted to accomplish.

Disclaimer: this company didn't typically do the sort of materials you're considering. Maybe someone else can contribute their experience on how popular paperbacks are handled.
posted by gimonca at 9:57 AM on March 26, 2010

Those language differences matter in some cases: and I gave away my Spanish (from Spain) copy of Neuromancer because I found the regionalisms were insufferable (I'm Mexican). I was halfway through the book when I noticed "colocarse" meant "getting high!

I think the easiest way is to look for Spanish editorials and for the line "Editado en España".
Most classic books are edited in Spain, even if they are sold in other countries. For example, in Gandhi, a Mexican bookstore, Crónicas de Narnia is edited in Spain. You could compare a book in a Mexican and a Spanish bookstore, and in case of doubt, always go with the editorial in the Spain site.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2010

Response by poster: I agree with the comments about the differences being quite significant. What little Castilian Spanish I know from being in Spain, I've discovered many differences. Some commonly used words in Spain are down-right offensive in Mexico ('Cojer' for example).

Also, I'd like to make sure I get experience with the Vosotros form that is commonly used in Spain but not elsewhere.

Thanks for all of the replies.
posted by verevi at 4:05 PM on March 26, 2010

agree with clearlydemon. when I was finishing up my spanish minor I searched heaven and earth to find a big ass unabridged spanish dictionary/lexicon for north american use.

all I could find was a european one, so I'm stuck with european spanish words defined in british english and no fucking use at all for the mostly puerto rican/cuban/dominican/mexican/guatemalan spanish I have to speak/hear every day.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:18 PM on March 26, 2010

Well, I think for your purposes, reading books you are familiar with that have been translated into Spanish is perfect. You just want to get the hang of the sentence structure, the verbs and understanding vocabulary.

I suspect these well known books have been translated into standard Spanish, applicable for all markets. Furthermore, to me it seems that books written in English and translated into English still seem like English thoughts and concepts (in Spanish!) so ... it´s easier to understand.

Reading texts written in Spanish, however is pretty different, like a whole different way of phrasing and explaining thoughts - so I definitely recommend sticking to translated texts, for now.

Also, you could buy English and Spanish versions of the same text, regardless of where it was originally written, and use the English text as support.
posted by Locochona at 8:11 PM on March 26, 2010

I think the older the source material, the more universal the translation becomes. I haven't read very many english to spanish translations, but I've read a lot of french and russian ones. Flaubert and Proust translated by Spaniards sound perfectly fine to me (I'm Mexican). So does Tolstoi.

I've flipped through Lolita and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (also translated by spaniards) and they sounded bizarre to my ear. I've read Being There by Jerzy Kosinski done by an argentinian translator and it sounded a bit too formal.

My quick and fast rule of thumb would be that anything written before the 1950s is probably going to be done in a sort of universal standard spanish. Genere fiction is also probably going to show more differences.

Another thing to consider is that the spanish speaking book market is actually dominated by some pretty big imprints who sell pretty much the same translation in every country, so the translation has to be pretty general. I'm almost certain that Stephen King is only translated once.
posted by Omon Ra at 9:38 PM on March 31, 2010

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