A new resource for Spanish to English back translators?

A fascinating new dictionary has recently been published to reflect current usage of Anglicisms in spoken and written Spanish in the United States. Entries include crashear, ringuear and enjoyar; tícher, dedlain and muvi. How might the Diccionario de anglicismos del español estadounidense help a Spanish to English translator?


The Dictionary of Anglicisms of US Spanish (Diccionario de anglicismos del español estadounidense, DAEE) is clearly a descriptive rather than a prescriptive dictionary. The editor, Francisco Moreno-Fernández (Executive Director of the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard, Observatory of the Spanish Language and Hispanic Cultures in the United States) explains in the preface that he has included words that have “established, through use itself, a certain continuity, and which appear to have become consolidated or stabilized”.

Moreno-Fernández focuses on Spanish in the United States, so excludes words in generalised use in other Spanish-speaking countries.  He has drawn on similar dictionaries published to date; online sources; two corpora coordinated by the Real Academia Española; Twitter posts since 2016; a national lexical survey of 40 common Anglicisms in Spanish in the United States; and experts’ contributions.

The DAEE currently has some 1000 entries and definitions – some with a usage map – and is available as a static PDF file. In the future, it will be updated and made accessible in a dynamic online format.

An eye-opener

The DAEE is a good example of how language usage evolves over time, especially in a society where Spanish and English are spoken side by side in many contexts. No doubt people in the US will be familiar with many of these expressions. For someone tuned into Spanish on the other side of the pond, however, the DAEE has many surprises and is fun to browse. I came across some real eye-openers:

llamar para atrás 
viaje redondo

False friends no longer false?

An unsuspected, knock-on effect of the DAEE is that some Spanish-English words hitherto considered “false friends” can now be classified as true cognates. Here are some examples of US Spanish-English words listed as cognates in the DAEE:

US Spanish English
embarazar embarrass
eventualmente eventually
facilidades facilities
forma (impreso) form
idioma idiom
insulación insulation
introducir to introduce s.o.

The case of US Spanish to English back translations

“No hesite en hacer cualquier pregunta”
“Puede que necesite un tiempo fuera del trabajo”

As a back translator, I’m sometimes faced with a literal translation done by a forward translator who simply wants to ensure the back translator will produce the original English wording. This defeats the point of the exercise, but it happens.

While I’d definitely flag the above sentences and suggest an alternative if the text were for Spain, I’m not so confident when back translating US Spanish. And in the case of multinational trials, patient-facing documents such as informed consent forms (ICFs) are often translated into US Spanish as well as other Spanish variants.

Last year, I collected many examples of unidiomatic Spanish encountered in forward translations for a presentation at METM17. I can cross some of those examples off the list now thanks to this new resource, the DAEE, which identifies Anglicisms that are in common use in US Spanish. No longer do I need to flag them as awkward, literal or Spanglish. Or do I?

¿Un diccionario reliable?

If you’re a native Spanish medical translator and live in the US, I’d love to hear what you think of the DAEE and whether you use these terms in patient-facing documentation.

Please fill in this 2-question survey about the DAEE in the context of real-life examples of US Spanish ICFs.

In a nutshell, my question is, do these Anglicisms pass muster in an informed consent?

  1. El apartado abajo no aplica si usted ya ha recibido el medicamento
  2. Firmar este consentimiento no es mandatorio
  3. No hesite en hacer cualquier pregunta
  4. Podrá remover el parche al llegar a casa
  5. Puede que necesite un tiempo fuera del trabajo
  6. Puede usted refusar de participar
  7. Recibirá una inyección en el lado opósito
  8. Si no le cubre su plan médico, el patrocinador pagará cualquier gasto
  9. Si tiene usted un cuidador que le soporte en las actividades diarias
  10. Tendrá que completar un cuestionario sobre sus síntomas

[Link to the survey]

h/t @navarrotradmed for the news about the DAEE.

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6 Responses to A new resource for Spanish to English back translators?

  1. Nora Diaz says:

    Hi Emma, a very interesting read! While a couple of those seem perfectly acceptable to me (aplica, plan), most of them sound like “pochismos”, words that we often hear along the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly on the U.S. side and used by U.S. Spanish speakers, but that no native Spanish speaker would use –or even understand– outside of the border region. Although not related to medical translation, my family often tells the story of an elderly family member who, after moving to the U.S. described a sink leak as “está liqueando el sink”. : )

    • Thanks, Nora. So in Mexico, most of these terms would be inappropriate for use in an ICF, because they wouldn’t necessarily be understood by the patients.
      I wonder, even if these terms are widely understood by US Spanish speakers, whether the register is inappropriate for an ICF in any case.
      I love your example of the leaking sink! That would definitely leave everything socado!

      • Nora Diaz says:

        Exactly. I think there would be two reasons to avoid these terms in an ICF meant to be used in Mexico, or in any formal written communication, for that matter: even in the border states, non-bilingual Mexicans would have trouble understanding them, and “pocho” language (Spanglish) is considered uneducated, so the register would be inappropriate for an ICF, in my opinion.

        For Spanish speakers in the U.S., I think if they were born in the U.S., they would prefer getting ICFs in English, as that’s the language they use in school. For those not born in the U.S. and who don’t feel comfortable reading in English, a standard Spanish ICF with the appropriate register should be fine, as Spanish is, after all, their mother tongue, and even if they have become used to using Spanglish when communicating with others, they still understand regular Spanish.

  2. Isabel Ferrandis says:

    I live in the United States and totally agree with Nora 🙂

  3. Never heard of it in Spain, but there’s an entry for the verb «hesitar» in the Spanish DLE dictionnary:
    So someone somewhere is using «hesitar».

  4. Alison says:

    Hi Emma,
    What an interesting article! I think about these anglicismos all the time. I live in California and we have so many…lonche, aparcar, the list goes on. While I often use these terms (like the ones in your list at the end) in my own personal writing or when chatting with friends, I stick to the formal Spanish when translating most documents and forms. That being said, I suppose there are some contexts that would merit the use of a few DAEE terms. Happy to have found your blog!
    -Alison, Spanish to English translator

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