Castilian = Spanish = Castellano = Español

This is a persistent misunderstanding… Before starting any Spanish translation, having this information handy might be helpful when clients or distributors tell YOU what variety of Spanish is required, without providing any geographical context.
Castilian/Spanish, Castellano/Español are all synonyms for the same language.
In short, it avoids confusion to call the national  language spoken in Spain “peninsular” Spanish or European Spanish.
In many Spanish-speaking countries in the New World, people casually use the term castellano (Castilian in English) to mean “proper” Spanish – that is, not colloquial or a regional dialect, and without a lot of folksy local vocabulary or slang that wouldn’t be understood by Spanish speakers outside of their specific country or region.
One will commonly hear “castellano” used in this sense in Mexico, for instance. It’s sort of like a U.S. speaker saying “the King’s English.” But this is a colloquial usage, and not linguistically accurate.
In some cases, what the client is driving at might be one of the “virtual” Spanish varieties used for translation purposes; for example, “Latin American” Spanish or “Universal” Spanish. These are not really Spanish dialects at all. Instead, in the translation industry they are a convenient way of indicating that the target Spanish variety needs to be comprehensible (to the extent  possible) in various countries and might need to include some alternate wordings where differing vocabulary might cause confusion.
Sometimes Spanish speakers outside of the USA may in fact be specifying “Castilian” because they believe (with some cause) that a lot of what they would consider “bad”  Spanish or Spanglish is spoken within the USA. They may be concerned (again, with some cause) that they might receive this from any translation agency based in the USA. Another article in this blog discusses some of the numerous misconceptions about Spanish translations for use within the United States.

  • Another interesting aspect of the term castellano (Castilian) is that many people within autonomous regions of Spain who speak other peninsular languages such as Catalán, Galician or Basque make a point of calling it castellano. After all, theirs are also co-official “Spanish” languages!

Usually, when “Castilian” Spanish is requested, either:

  1. The client really does mean European Spanish as spoken in Spain (and Equatorial Guinea, Gilbraltar, Ceuta, Melilla); or
  2. Their own clients or distributors have told them “Castilian” as a way of saying “standard” Spanish that isn’t colloquial or regional dialect— it which case it would NOT be appropriate to translate to European Spanish.
  • Spanish in Europe has some basic grammatical differences from any New World Spanish variety, including the well-known use of the second-person plural pronouns and verb forms (vosotros). In the New World, these are generally only seen in archaic, poetical or biblical styles. There are also many other important differences in vocabulary, preferences for sentence construction, and compound verb forms. Pronunciation is also very different, and this is of crucial importance when recording voiceover narrations for e-learning, video, PowerPoint, Flash, etc.  A large proportion of European Spanish is intelligible to well-traveled New World speakers, but they will definitely recognize it as a different Spanish variety. Especially in non-technical text, European Spanish sounds more “foreign” to American Spanish speakers than British vernacular does to USA English speakers, for example.

As always, if clients let us know exactly WHERE the Spanish translation will be used, our expertise can help them choose the most appropriate target language variety.
ASIST Translation Services, Inc. is a full-service interpreting and translation agency located in Columbus, Ohio. We provide translation, interpreting, proofreading, studio voice recording and media production, localization of interactive and Web content, and specialized language services to clients around the world.