Translation of Acronyms
Thread poster: Valeria Audivert

Valeria Audivert  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jan 16, 2007

Can somebody tell what is the international standard on the translation of acronyms?

For example: Paid Time Off (PTO)
We translate "Paid Time Off" but do we leave the "PTO" acronym as it is, or do we substitute it with the equivalent translated acronym?



Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:59
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Depends on the purpose and the target audience Jan 16, 2007

Valeria Audivert wrote:

Can somebody tell what is the international standard on the translation of acronyms?

For example: Paid Time Off (PTO)
We translate "Paid Time Off" but do we leave the "PTO" acronym as it is, or do we substitute it with the equivalent translated acronym?


English is inordinately fond of acronyms, but not all languages are. For translations into Spanish, the decision on how to handle them depends on where and how the text will be used.

For instance, let's imagine you're translating an employee handbook to be read by Spanish-speaking workers in the U.S. If they will need to fill out time-off forms in English, then they'll need to recognize the English abbreviation PTO. In that case, I'd put the Spanish term followed by "(PTO por sus siglas en inglés)".

But let's imagine a different case. Let's say you're translating an article about how much PTO different companies offer. Let's imagine it's for publication in an Argentinian magazine for Human Resources managers. In that case, the abbreviation is irrelevant to the readers, and it seems wisest to just use whatever term is used in the target country.

Mi granito de arena. icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2007-01-16 23:00]


Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:59
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
My own glossary of acronyms Jan 16, 2007

Over many years, I have compiled my own glossary of acronyms from French and Spanish to English, to which I add every time I encounter a new one. I find it most useful.
I'd be glad to share it with ProZ members if anyone's interested. If anyone would like me to send it (as a "Word" file), please contact me.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:59
English to Spanish
+ ...
Standard Jan 16, 2007

I have run across PTO and many other such acronyms in my own work. Since this involves employee manuals for Spanish-speakers in the US, I use the original acronym (PTO, etc.) but without failing to ensure that it has been defined somewhere (Tiempo Libre con Goce de Sueldo, etc.).

I agree with Steven that for other audiences other solutions may be more appropriate.

Don't expect there to be international standards for such things; practically all the standards we use in our profession are those we develop ourselves. That's good, because it allows us to use our common sense.


Rosa Diez Tagarro  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:59
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
+ ...
I agree with Steven and Henry Jan 17, 2007

It really depends on where and how the text will be used, so each case is going to be different and no standards could be applied (more a matter of common sense, as said).

For instance, if the text was to be read in Spain, it will still depend on the kind of magazine / webpage / document where it would appear. You could still use the acronym in English in some cases (with an explanation in Spanish) and in other cases it would be pointless and you would need to find a way to define it.

Best of luck!



Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 13:59
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Style Guides Jan 17, 2007

Hi, Valéria:

One idea is to approach this according to well-known style guides for the target language used in the target country. In my case, when I'm translating from English into Brazilian Portuguese I tend to use not only what the most respectable grammar books and dictionaries say, but also what journalism style guides agree on, since that's my educational background.

What we learn in Journalism school is that we should present the name of the organization (be it the name in Portuguese, the conventional translation, or the most suitable version) and then the acronym in parenthesis. This is used to save space throughout the text, since you can apply the acronym XXX as a synonym to general words such as "organization," "agency," "department," etc.

When translating a text, the only different thing I do apart from this general journalistic rule is to add a footnote with the original name of the organization, whenever we're talking about an international body without a conventional translation in the target language. For example:

... Agência de Alimentos e Medicamentos dos EUA (FDA) 1.

1. Translator's Note: Do original "Food and Drug Administration."

Considering some examples of what I call "conventional translation," which wouldn't need any explanatory footnote or reference in the original language, since the translated version and the acronym are well known in Brazil, we have the "Organização Mundial de Saúde (OMS)" for the World Health Organization (WHO) or "Cruz Vermelha" for the Red Cross.

Of course this is not applied to organization/agency names only, and I've been constantly using this format in business communications when a large corporation is using aconyms such as EHS for "Environment, Health and Safety" in the whole the world; in contracts, when something like POD for Pay(id) on Delivery appears on the text, and in the IT field (which in Brazil becomes "TI") when referring to several computer lingo.

I hope it helps!


Local time: 16:59
Spanish to English
One example Jan 19, 2007

I happened to read the current issue of "People en espanol" which is obviously targeted to the US market. In it, they referred to the head of the American Civil Liberties Union as follows:

la Union Americana de las Libertades Civiles (ACLU)

so they translate the name but keep the acronym. Of course, the ACLU is a very well known organization that is immediately recognized by its initials, and undoubtedly the readership is well aware that American organizations are known by their English language acronyms. But People en espanol did not provide any explanatory text to go with the English-language acronym.

So that's one example



Spanish to English
I agree with this Liz Oct 18, 2011

Hi Liz,

I agree with your method. I wonder if any of you can help me as well, I am currently doing a thesis and I have run into a lot of acronyms, basically these are acronyms referring to legal texts.

I have decided to translate the title of the law to which the text refers into English but have decided to retain the acronym in the source culture.

I believe transferring the acronym would be incorrect since no official translation is provided and the acronym specifies the name of the law in the SL.

I wonder if anybody could perhaps explain why then it is acceptable to translate the title?
ALso could anybody point me to any official translations where this method may be employed ?

I would be extremely apprehensive about transferring the acronym since my document functions as a source of information about a court judgment to a foreign audience, in which case accuracy is paramount.

Thank you all!


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Translation of Acronyms

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