7 pitfalls to avoid in financial translations

Posted by on Aug 19, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments

You might think that financial translation is easy – after all it’s really about the numbers and the text is pretty standard. That is true but there are plenty of pitfalls waiting to catch out the novice translator.  Our financial translations team came up with the following list of 7 pitfalls, but I’m sure there are plenty more. If you have any more items to add to our list, feel free to add a comment.

1)    Many Spanish-speaking countries use the decimal comma, whereas English-speaking countries use the decimal point. This means:

  • The Spanish number 1,5 equates to 1.5 in English.
  • 1.000 in a Spanish text is translated as 1,000 (or simply 1000) in English.

2)    Many countries use the $ symbol to represent their currency. To avoid confusing the reader, the text needs to make clear which currency is being referred to.

  • It is usual to put US$ for US dollars or Ch$ for Chilean pesos, for instance.

3)   Financial texts in Spanish put “m” to denote a thousand or “mm” to denote one thousand thousand (i.e. a million) and they put this abbreviation before the figure.

  • So m$2.000 could be expressed in English as US$2 million, US$2m or ThUS$2,000.  Confusing or what?

4)    Many countries are moving to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for their financial reporting. IFRS uses specific terminology in each language so the person translating needs to find the correct term in the target he/she is translating to. For instance:

“Depreciación acumulada y deterioros de valor acumulados” should be translated as “Accumulated depreciation and impairment”.

5)    Abbreviations always make life difficult for the translator, who has to research what the abbreviation stands for and then seek out the equivalent in the other language. Here are some examples:

  • “IFRS” = “NIIF”
  • “SME” = “PYME”

Even worse, an abbreviation may exist in both languages but be generally understood to denote different things, for instance:

  • “mm” = a million in Spanish but most English speakers would think of millimetres.

6)    Someone who isn’t a specialist in finance can get into difficulties with certain terms which have a special translation in a financial context. Look at these examples:

Spanish Literal English translation Correct English translation
menor valor lesser value goodwill
enajenar alienate/transfer dispose of
bienes raices goods roots real estate
monto en libros amount in books carrying amount

7)    Finally, dates are a minefield. In the United States, it is usual to put the month, then the date, then the year, e.g. December 31, 2014 or 12/31/2014. In the UK, as in Chile, it is usual to express the date, then the month, then the year e.g. 31 December 2014 or 31/12/2014. Clearly what is important is to be consistent so as to avoid confusing the reader.