Lessons from El País in English

The English version of the popular Spanish daily newspaper, El País, has been available online every day since 2011. The El País in English Facebook page describes it as “The best content from the pages of the world’s leading Spanish-language daily, translated by a team of native English-speaking journalists.”

The translation process of El País is yet another good example of the time and cost-efficient mix of in-house staff and third-party resources coming together to convert media-generated content. The English version is the result of the work of a few translators and a team of journalists from all over the English-speaking world. It has been mentioned in academic studies in relation with the phenomenon known as transedition, the focus of today’s post.


A daily English-language supplement of El País was delivered with the Spanish edition of the International New York Times until last February. The supplement covered international and domestic subjects from Portugal, Latin America and Spain, translated from the Spanish journal. While El País in English technically has less translated content than the Times‘ English-language supplement, the work system is very similar and has to do with transedition, or the content internationalization effort that involves a translating task, an editing task, and an intercultural communication strategy.

A Billion Is Not One Thousand Million

The challenges of translation (and those of transedition, as we will see in the next section) appear magnified in the newsroom due to the pressures of time and the occurrence of late-breaking events. For instance, translating legal terms are complicated enough, but making them headline-friendly at the same time is mission close to impossible. False cognates and calques are for journalists a real minefield. As if all that was not enough, plenty of other details have to be considered. Consider the following: in Spanish a billion is not one thousand million, but one million million. If not translated properly into English, English speakers would be in danger of reading grossly exaggerated numbers.

Up for Debate

The other side of transedition, editorial decision-making and localization, meets similar hurdles. To give you an example: Lehendakari refers to the head of the regional government in Euskera, the last remaining descendant of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe, but for someone from New Jersey or Sydney it may prove hard to find its equivalent in modern political language.

In the summer of 2013, a story that encountered intense debate in U.S. media was that of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who originally made the news for providing government files to WikiLeaks and then later made an announcement that he would like to be considered a woman and referred to as Chelsea. Whether to use feminine pronouns and the name Chelsea or masculine pronouns and the name Bradley to refer to Private Manning became a serious point of contention in U.S. newsrooms, and probably it was at El País, too.

To take only one more example, the style rules of El País in English impose U.S. spellings, maybe as a consequence of the old supplement being sold alongside the International New York Times, which I’m sure makes their British readers and journalists fret.

Despite the challenges, there is an upside to transedition work. Perhaps James Badcock, ex-El País in English editor, put it best when he said, “I had never seen the term transedition before but I sure knew what it meant: some hard-bitten journalists have become damn fine translators, while some raw translators have developed a natty newswriting style.”