In many universities in the US, students choose a primary specialty to study (called their "major") and optionally a secondary emphasis (called a "minor"). How would these terms be expressed in Spanish when referring to a US education? And do universities in Spanish-speaking countries have the same major/minor structure?

  • I don't think this is really about Spanish language, but university system in different countries. For example, Spain is in the European Higher Education Area, it's divided in Bachelor degree and Master Degree. In Latin America countrie implements its own higher education system and may vary. So I think you should consider looking up higher education in Spanish-speaking countries elsewhere (wikipedia does a pretty good job) rather than asking an specific translation from the US education. (Why not Canadian or Australian?)
    – JoulSauron
    May 7 '12 at 20:16
  • @JoulSauron: The main reason I ask is because I have a degree from a US university, and I've had trouble explaining what I studied when traveling in Spanish-speaking countries.
    – jrdioko
    May 7 '12 at 20:23
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    What I usually do is to explain how is the education system in Spain. I have to do this to Europeans and Latin Americans, even from Spanish-speaking countries. It's not really about how do you say major/minor, but what you studied then. For example, in my CVs to Germany I don't write the translation in German, but say how many years/courses it took my degree for a better understanding, and it's more appreciated. To me, for example, major/minor from US is irrelevant, I needed what you said primary speciality and secondary emphasis.
    – JoulSauron
    May 7 '12 at 20:32
  • @JoulSauron: I see. How would "primary specialty" and "secondary emphasis" be best expressed in Spanish then?
    – jrdioko
    May 7 '12 at 20:35
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    Sorry for my long comments, just to make it clear. Previous to the EHEA, Spanish engineers where often considered as low educated in UK, because in UK most people are engineers + master. However, the fact was that in Spain, the engineers studied the equivalent to British engineering+master, and oftenly they were even more prepared than British, but this was not usually known by British HR in companies.
    – JoulSauron
    May 7 '12 at 20:36

I asked this same question of my Spanish teacher who spent significant amounts of time in Spain (was married to a Spaniard and spent summers there.) His suggestion was to refer to the major as "especialización" and minor as "subespecialización". These are the best descriptions I've heard for describing the US system of study in Spanish terms.

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    Although we never use those terms, I think we can understand what you would mean if you say that.
    – JoulSauron
    May 9 '12 at 7:19

In Colombia (and in most Latin American countries) there are no such structures in undergraduate education. Therefore, "major" and "minor" are words used only to speak about the US educational system.

Instead, in most Latin American countries we have a system that differentiates between "professional" and "technical" education (educación profesional y educación técnica o tecnológica). A professional degree is better than a technical degree. The former is taught at universities and has a duration of four to five years. The latter is taught at "Institutos Técnicos" and usually has a duration of two to three years.

There are some similarities between major and professional degrees, and between minor and technical degrees, but our education systems are different from yours in many ways.

If you are talking about education you must be careful to refer to a specific country (e.g., Perú, Mexico, or Brasil), and conduct research about the specific names that are used there to refer to their specific structures in education. A Wikipedia search is often enough.

  • The U.S. has technical colleges, too, which I believe correspond pretty closely to the Latin American Institutos Técnicos, and they generally don't offer degrees, per se, but often certifications, or other un-accredited diplomas.
    – Flimzy
    May 10 '12 at 23:04
  • Sorry, but the association of majors to professional degrees and minors to technical degrees is wrong. It only has to do with how many courses or credit-hours of study are required to get a major vs. a minor.
    – ardila
    Mar 29 '18 at 13:35

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