Culture and Language

Style Guide for Translations into Spanish

Young boy playing on playground equipmentExplore this style guide for language best practices that are helpful in providing meaningful information to the Spanish-speaking Head Start community.

About the Style Guide

The Office of Head Start (OHS) asks its National Centers, contractors, and vendors to use this guide, along with the Head Start Bilingual Glossary when translating materials. These best practices and standards apply to all materials published on the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC).

Use it to render culturally sensitive and functional translations for all Head Start digital resources in Spanish.

1. Plain Language and Style

Plain language is communication that an audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. The Head Start audience who reads and speaks in Spanish is diverse. It is composed of both providers and families from different backgrounds and cultures. This may be a challenge for translators and linguists. However, OHS has created specific language resources to provide material in Spanish that is accurate, concise, and fluent in the following style. 

1.1. Tone

Content provided in Spanish through the ECLKC is:

  • Informative and educational
  • Written in a friendly and inviting tone
  • Clear for all Spanish-speaking readers
  • Authoritative and reliable

1.2. Voice

The ECLKC provides information and services for a diverse Spanish-speaking population. We strive to build relationships with the communities we serve through various digital platforms.

  • For content in Spanish published on the ECLKC and HSICC communications, use the formal personal pronoun “usted”
  • Only for social media in Spanish, use the informal personal pronoun “tú”

2. Prior to Translating

Use these tips prior to translating. They help you start your Spanish translations with the proper format used in online information and resources.

2.1. Titles and References

Before translating a title (articles, books, resources, title pages, etc.) that reference ECLKC or external titles, make sure it hasn’t already been translated

  • For hyperlinked and non-hyperlinked ECLKC pages or titles, check whether a title has been previously translated using the ECLKC Search bar, and then going to the Spanish version of the page to look for the title.
  • For hyperlinked and non-hyperlinked external pages or titles, do a quick search on Google to look for an official translation and use that title in Spanish.
  • For both cases, in a paragraph or reference section, when the title is hyperlinked and it hasn’t been translated yet, translate it and then add the “(en inglés)” notation to let the reader know that the content is only available in English. There is no need to keep the original title in English because it is linked to a source where the reader can find it.
  • For both cases, in a paragraph or reference section, when a title is not hyperlinked and it hasn’t been translated yet, keep the original title, add the “(en inglés)” notation to let the reader know that the content is only available in English, and then translate it in brackets.

2.2. Hyperlinking

  • When a hyperlinked text takes the reader to an English page, add the notation “(en inglés)” after the hyperlinked title or URL.

Example: Recursos para abordar el uso indebido de sustancias durante el embarazo (en inglés)

3. Spelling, Grammar, and Text Formatting

3.1. Accents marks

  • Use accent marks on capital letters when required.

Example: Área de juego

3.2. Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Initialisms

  • When writing acronyms and initialisms in English for the first time in a webpage or document, spell out the whole term, then add the acronym or initialism followed by the “(sigla en inglés)” notation.

Example: La Oficina Nacional de Head Start (OHS, sigla en inglés)

  • Don’t use the “(sigla en inglés)” notation in titles. Use it when the term appears for the first time in the body of the article or page.
  • Acronyms and initialisms in plural form don’t include an “s” at the end nor an apostrophe.
  • In upcoming appearances on the same resource, just use the abbreviation.

Example: Los niños que son DLL se comunican usando palabras de uno o más idiomas.

  • Acronyms that are proper names and have more than four letters are written with only the first letter capitalized.

Example: Unesco

  • Abbreviate “for example” in Spanish (p. ej.,) when it has been abbreviated in English (e.g.,) 

Example: P. ej., las familias pueden esperar fuera del aula.

  • Add a period after abbreviations. 

Example: Dra. or pág.

3.3. Apostrophes (’)

  • Do not use the apostrophe in numbers (’99) when translating into Spanish

Example: Esta es la promoción del 99.

3.4. Bulleted and Numbered Lists

  • In lists consisting of only one word, don’t capitalize the first word and use a comma or no punctuation mark at the end of the word.
  • In lists consisting of phrases, don’t capitalize the first word and use a comma or semicolon at the end of the phrase.
  • If you use a comma or semicolon in lists consisting of only one word or phrase, use a period in the last item on the list. 
  • In lists with complete sentences, capitalize the first word and use a period at the end of each sentence.
  • In lists consisting of titles or subtitles, don't use periods.


3.5. Capitalization

  • Capitalize:
    • Acronyms
    • Only the first word of a title or subtitle, unless the name is officially written using capitalization in all words in a trustworthy reference
    • Only the first word of a slogan or campaign (e.g. campaña Cimientos seguros, futuros saludables)
  • Don’t capitalize:
    • Days of the week and months
    • Cardinal points
    • Languages, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions
    • Titles, positions, and professions (e.g., especialista en la primera infancia, director)
    • Any kind of subject matter (e.g., derecho, matemáticas, psicología)
    • First word after a colon, unless it is a quote or part of a subheading in a heading
      (e.g., Los diferentes colores que usarán son: blanco, amarillo, verde, gris y azul)
    • Words in parentheses, unless it is an acronym or abbreviation
    • Words such as web, internet, federal, calle, avenida, zona, barrio

3.6. Commas

  • The serial comma is not used in Spanish.
  • Use a comma before “y” or “o” when there is a sentence that numbers elements and immediately after a new sentence is introduced, or when a complex sentence with more than one subject is introduced.

Example: En la mañana los niños estuvieron tranquilos, alegres y ordenados, y después
de almuerzo estuvieron muy inquietos.

3.7. Date and Time

  • Add a comma between the day and the date.
  • Leave a space between “p.” and “m.” or “a.” and “m.” when using these abbreviations.
  • Add the time zone using this format: (hora del este).

Example: La reunión se llevará a cabo el martes, 25 de diciembre de 2019 a las 9 p. m. (hora del este) en el salón general.

3.8. Em Dash (—)

  • Type the em dash right next to the initial and last word of the clause.

Example: Para todos los maestros —los que se encontraban en la reunión— era esencial dialogar sobre ese tema.

3.9. Italics

  • When referring to text in another language within a Spanish narrative

Example: Los muffins para el desayuno de los niños eran saludables.

  • When using intentionally misspelled words

Example: Mis hijos van pa'l parque todas las tardes.

  • Books and newspapers titles; literary, scientific, and artistic works; and titles of websites within a text (not in a biography)

3.10. Numbers

  • Use figures for all numbers above nine. Spell out all numbers under 10.
  • Use numeric figures for all ages, dimensions, fractions, miles, sums of money, percentages, and times of day.
  • For numeric intervals, use a preposition instead of a dash (e.g. páginas 94 a 98 or páginas 94 y 95).
  • Avoid starting a sentence with a number; spell it out instead or reword the sentence if possible.
  • For money, use the English punctuation: $1,276.50, because the Head Start audience is comprised of Spanish speakers in the U.S. and U.S. territories.
    • Don’t use: $1.276,59
  • For abbreviated ordinal numbers, use (º, ª, er, os, as) following this order: number, period, and superior letter

1.º/.er, 2.º/.ª,, 4.ª,, etc.
La 2.ª edición se publicará muy pronto.

  • Avoid using fractional numbers as ordinal numbers.

Example: Use “decimosegundo” en vez de “doceavo”.

3.11. Percentages (%)

  • If the English text uses the word “percent” spelled out, use it in Spanish as well (por ciento).
  • If the English text uses the symbol (%), use it in Spanish as well, and leave a space between the number and the symbol.

Example: El 32 % del personal no asistió a la conferencia.

3.12. Prefixes

  • Prefixes are written right next to the main word without a hyphen, except when that word is capitalized, it is an acronym, or a number.

Example: expresidente, sociocultural, anti-Brexit, pro-LGTBQ

  • Prefixes are written separately when used in a multi-word unit

Example: ex vice presidente

3.13. Punctuation

  • Punctuation marks are written outside of quotation marks, parentheses, brackets, and dashes.
  • Exclamation points and question marks are used at the beginning (opening) and end (closing) of sentences: ¿? ¡ !
  • Don’t use a period on table of contents, image captions, or diagram captions.
  • Don’t use a colon between a preposition and a link, hyperlink, or URL.

Example: Suscríbase en


  • When introducing a quotation, use a colon and capitalize the first letter.

Example: El estudio señala: “Los niños pueden comunicarse con los adultos desde que nacen”.

  • Always add a period after a quote that ends in an exclamation or question mark.

Example: “¡Es una estrategia excelente!”.

3.15. Symbols

  • When using a symbol, such as the abbreviation of measurement units (kg, oz) don't use plural forms or add periods.

3.16. The expression “and/or” is incorrect in Spanish

  • This expression only applies to English grammar. In Spanish, the conjunction “o” has both values, so “and/or” should be translated as “o.”

4. Helpful Resources

Review some helpful resources that will help you deliver clear, reader-focused, and high-quality translations, Spanish captioning, and interpretation services.

4.1. Grammar Rules and Linguistic Questions Resources

4.2. Translation Guidance

4.3. Additional Federal Resources

5. Frequently Mistranslated English Terms

TermPreferred TranslationFalse Cognate
access (to)acceder aaccesar
Act (as in law)LeyActa
actualreal, verdaderoactual
actuallyen realidad, realmenteactualmente
agenda (as in meeting agenda)orden del díaagenda
apply (to) (e.g., for a job)solicitaraplicar
apply (to) (something to)aplicarse (es reflexivo), es aplicable aaplicar
approach (as in method)enfoque, métodoacercamiento
billionmil millonesbillón
circleencerrar en un círculocircular
citation (quotation)citacitación
collateral (finance)fianza, garantía, avalcolateral
compensationremuneración (sueldo o salario)compensación
comprehensiveintegral, completo, exhaustivocomprensivo
confidentseguro de sí mismoconfidente
consistentcoherente, constanteconsistente
convenientcómodo, práctico, útilconveniente
directions (driving, instructions)instrucciones, indicacionesdirecciones
disorder (health)trastorno, enfermedad, condicióndesorden
eventuallyfinalmente, en última instancia, tarde o tempranoeventualmente
expectant mothermadre embarazada/gestantemadre expectante
facilitiesestablecimientos, instalacionesfacilidades
form (as in an application)formularioforma
foundation (basis)fundamentos, bases, cimientosfundación
health foodalimentos sin aditivoscomida saludable
healthy appetitebuen apetitoapetito saludable
instanceejemplo, casoinstancia
introduce (to) (meeting a person)presentarintroducir
learn moreinformar(se), enterar(se), tomar conocimientoaprenda más
medical conditionenfermedad, afección, padecimientocondición médica
minutes (meeting)actasminutas
molest (to)abusar sexualmentemolestar
post (to) (online)publicar (en línea)postear
process (to) (an application)tramitarprocesar
qualified (for a job, etc.)estar capacitado, reunir los requisitos necesarioscalificar
reconciliations (accounting)conciliacionesreconciliaciones
refer (to)consultarreferirse
relevantpertinente, correspondienterelevante
remove (to)quitar, sacarremover
responsivesensible, receptivoresponsivo
selection guidelinescriterios de selecciónguías de selección
social mediaredes socialesmedios sociales
submit (to)presentar, enviarsometer
substantiateconfirmar, corroborarsustanciar
suggestionrecomendación, sugerenciasugerencia
surgeon generaldirector de salud públicacirujano general
ultimatelyen última instanciaúltimamente