On Inserting Random Spanish Words in English-Language Posts

Having read my share of expat-in-Spain blogs, something that drives me crazy is when bloggers insert random Spanish words into their posts and “forget” to translate them. Often these are pretty easily-understood; e.g., “just sipping some café trying to stay warm,” or “having a blast at this fiesta, y’all!” But sometimes they can be downright confusing, like, “a veces I just have to go to the panadería for some bread.”

Yep, you sure know how to speak Spanish all right, but the majority of your readers probably do not—and inserting cool phrases into your sentences will only confuse them. Don’t assume they do! Of course, there are times where you do need to include Spanish names or phrases in your posts, so I think some guidelines are in order for such times.

English and Spanish
"English I Spanish" by Esteban on Flickr

You should use “Spain” in place of “España

Yes, we all know you mean “Spain” when you talk about how much España has enchanted you, but if you’re writing in English, use the English name for the country. Please. Thank you.

You should use the Spanish name for the country’s place-names, unless it sounds pretentious

This means, talk about visiting Zaragoza (instead of “Saragossa”) or Sevilla (not “Seville”). But writing about the super-cheap flight you got to “las Islas Canarias” makes you sound like a snob. Nobody would know what you mean by that unless you said “the Canary Islands.” Also, you should refer to “the Basque Country” and not “el País Vasco.” Even worse would be to talk about “my life in Euskadi.” No. You do not speak Basque.

When first talking about something, you can use its Spanish name with an English translation, but then use the English word from then on

The way this works is like so: “I had to go to the oficina de extranjería (foreigners’ office) this afternoon.” A few sentences later, you might say, “I forgot my umbrella in the immigration office so, naturally, it started to pour.”

Also, for specific place-names, follow the lead of historian Mark Williams: “The generic name is left in English and the actual place name in Spanish; hence the Church of Santa María rather than St. Mary’s Church or La Iglesia de Santa María.”[1]

You should use the English name for any of Spain’s many languages.

* “Spanish,” not “español/castellano” (“Castilian” is the standard Peninsular accent)

* “Catalan,” not “catalán/catalá

* “Galician,” not “gallego/galego

* “Basque,” not “vasco/euskara

Basically this all comes down to helping your readers understand your posts. They most likely only read English, so sprinkling little Spanish words to sound cute or just because you’re so bilingual only makes your writing harder to read.

What are some of your pet peeves about writing and foreign words? Do you think it’s okay to include little Spanish phrases here and there? Talk about it in the comments below!

1) Mark R. Williams, The Story of Spain (San Mateo, Calif.: Golden Era Books, 2009), 9.

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