Bible Translation

Spanish Bible Translation: Using the Bible as a Translation Tool

When I first started studying Spanish, I used a Spanish Bible translation to help me improve my Spanish.

I have always been religious. I read the Bible in English before I started studying the language. One way I’ve found to improve language is to read a foreign language book alongside the English equivalent.

And the Bible is no exception. Some people think that the English in the Bible is too antiquated and is not good for language study. However, that is one of the precise reasons why I think it is a good study tool.

It’s important when studying a language to expose yourself to as much language as possible. The Bible (in both Spanish and English) contains unique uses of vocabulary and grammar. This will definitely help anyone learning to improve their language.

And I’m not the only one that has used a Spanish Bible translation to help them improve their Spanish. Recently I received an email from Mike, a visitor to the site:

I used a bilingual Bible to help me learn Spanish. First, I read portions that I knew well in English. Then, I covered up the English side and read in Spanish. Only when I could not figure out a word or phrase did I return to the English. It was faster than turning to a dictionary, and it also placed the word in context.

This process allowed me to associate Spanish words with the mental images I already had. It enabled me to begin learning to think in Spanish.

I also read the text out loud to help me develop a natural sounding rhythm in Spanish. I recommend this process for anyone learning another language as many bilingual Bibles are available.

This is exactly what I did when I was first learning Spanish and it helped tremendously. Having a bilingual text is a great way to learn. The Bible is readily available in both languages and you can read it verse by verse, without getting lost in the chapter.

Also, I think reading out loud is a great method for getting a feel of how the words should sound and when you hear yourself reading, you can correct yourself and try to sound more native.

Spanish Bible Translation Versions

So what version of the Spanish Bible should you use if you want to use it to improve your language?

Well, just like English versions of the Bible, there are a ton of different Spanish Bible translations.

And if you’ve ever tried to talk to someone about English bibles, you know that the subject can be a little heated. It’s the same for the Spanish versions.

Individual differences vary on what someone looks for when they buy a Bible. When I’m reading the Bible, I like the language to reflect the time period and for that reason prefer a more classical Spanish Bible translation. That’s why my preferred translation is the 1909 Reina Valera version.

This Spanish Bible translation retains the traditional style of the Spanish language. It was first published in 1569 by Casiodoro de Reina forty-two years before the King James version. It took 12 years to get it done. Ciprano de Valera then revised it in 1602. Hence the name Reina-Valera.

However, some people would rather read more updated versions of the Bible, which is fine.

For example, below is a comment I got about the 1909 version:

I’d like to correct an error on this webpage. You indicate that most Spanish speaking Christians use the Reina-Valera version. It is correct that most Protestant Christians use the Reina-Valera. However we do not use the 1909 translation, but rather the 1960 translation. The 1909 translation is not used by anyone except new Christians that accidentally pick it up from a bookstore and use it for a few weeks until someone explains to them that they got the wrong translation.

Another visitor, Bill, added the following:

I have served as a missionary in Latin America for over 20 years. When I started in 1989, about 1 in 10 used the 1909 version, 1 in 10 the Good News Bible and 8 in 10 the Reina-Valera 1960 version. Over the years the 1909 version has fallen out of favor – archaic language is the reason – some words are not used at all or are greatly changed in meaning.

If communicating is the purpose, the 1960 version is the gold standard. Please do not encourage anyone to use the 1909 version since it’s not really a viable translation.

In response to these thoughts on the 1909 versus the 1960 versions of the Reina-Valera version, another visitor to this site, Julieta, stated the following:

Sorry to disagree. I have been a Christian for 37 years I only read the 1909 version, and my whole church only reads the Reina Valera 1909. To us it is the closest version to the King James version (with very few differences) and most people that use the 1960 version use it because it is easier to read. However, at 6 I could understand the words perfectly and what I couldn’t my mom explained.

I am also a translator and yes, translators in general use 1960 for the convenience of vocabulary. But spiritually and for my devotional time I stick to 1909. This has a richer and deep meaning choice of words.

Finally, another visitor thought that neither Reina-Valera Spanish Bible translations was adequate. They thought that the World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was the best:

I had read a lot of Spanish Bible translations, but the best one is the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. The language is simple and easy to understand. Small children and professionals can understand every single phrase or sentence because the structure is the one we use in the 21 century. I really recommend this version especially for Spanish and English translation.

Different versions of the Bible can evoke strong feelings about which one is the “most correct” version.

While I personally like the 1909 version, from a language-learning perspective I don’t think it matters much which version you use. Just to give you a taste of the difference between versions, though, here are sample passages from the 1909, 1960, and Nueva Versión Internacional:

Reina Valera 1909Reina Valera 1960Nueva Versión
EN el principio crió Dios los cielos y la tierra.Y la tierra estaba desordenada y vacía, y las tinieblas estaban sobre la haz del abismo, y el Espíritu de Dios se movía sobre la haz de las aguas.En el principio creó Dios los cielos y la tierra.Y la tierra estaba desordenada y vacía, y las tinieblas estaban sobre la faz del abismo, y el Espíritu de Dios se movía sobre la faz de las aguas.Dios, en el principio, creó los cielos y la tierra.La tierra era un caos total, las tinieblas cubrían el abismo, y el Espíritu de Dios iba y venía sobre la superficie de las aguas.

So you can see how there are subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between the different versions. And this just highlights three of the many on the market today.

In addition to regular Spanish or English versions, you can also get bilingual Spanish-English bibles. These can also be great for language study because you’ll be able to see both languages side by side. I personally do not own one. However, I’m sure they’re great for learning either Spanish or English by reading the Bible.


P.S. If you want more tips on how to become a better translator, read my book.

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