Know Your Languages: Spanish
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With such a large volume of speakers, it makes sense for companies to consider Spanish translations when trying to reach a broad range of local and global customers. However, there are important considerations to make before beginning that process. The biggest? Understanding that Spanish is not one size fits all.

Is Spanish the same everywhere? 

European Spanish and Latin American Spanish vocabulary have evolved separately over the last several hundred years. There are distinct differences between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish (as well as between individual Latin American countries) much in the same way there are with British English and American English. Like Americans and Brits, Spanish speakers can fundamentally understand each other despite many differences in vocabulary, spelling and grammar. While both Latin American Spanish and European Spanish retain a core that is understood by all speakers, there are notable differences in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. Take the word “bus” as an example. Spaniards would likely call a bus an autobús while Cubans would call it a guagua and Mexicans would say camión.

Here are a few other uses that distinguish Spanish in the Americas as a whole from the European norm:

Spain Latin America
Pronunciation Use of the interdental fricative/∆/ (as in English thanks) in zapato, zócalo, gracias Use of /s/ throughout
Vocabulary Patata = Potato; Móvil = Cellphone; Correro electrónico = Email Papa = Potato; Celular = Cellphone; Email = Email
Grammar Use of vosotros for second person plural familiar Use of ustedes for second person plural for both formal or familiar



How can I navigate the differences between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish?

Neutral or International Spanish is considered a kind of standard Spanish. Although it isn’t an official spoken language, it is a Spanish that reaches all Spanish speakers, no matter the region they come from or live in. It consists of developing a message that pays special attention to the use of set phrases, expressions, and terminology and disregards slang and localisms from various Spanish-speaking countries. It can be a good solution for projects on a budget, trying to reach the broadest audience, or for those with very technical subjects such as mergers and acquisitions, medicine, mining, and engineering. However, if translated content is to elicit a reaction or an emotion, language that includes the use of local expressions is certainly more effective.

Here are some examples of Neutral Spanish terms:

English Term Spanish (Spain) Spanish (Americas) Neutral Spanish
Computer Ordenador Computadora Equipo informático
Car Coche Carro Automóvil
Apartment/Flat Piso Departamento Apartamento

Which Spanish should I use?

In a nutshell, it all depends on your budget, the type of message (professional or emotive) and the market you are attempting to reach. For example, if you aim to expand your business into only Mexico, use a translator and editor who are native to Mexico. They can choose the language, phrasing and colloquialisms that will resonate throughout the region. However, if you need to target the Spanish-speaking world as a whole, then consider Neutral Spanish. That said, you may wish to develop separate versions for Spain and the Americas. Spain usually merits its own version due to many of the grammar, style and vocabulary differences listed above.

If you are trying to reach US Hispanics, the use of Neutral Spanish is also recommended. Spanish speakers in the US come from a variety of countries so a neutral translation ensures a basic understanding across the board. This is the strategy used by Spanish language TV networks such as Telemundo and Univision. However, if you are targeting a specific region such as Florida or Texas then it makes sense to localize further. Texas or the Southwest calls for “Mexican Spanish,” while Miami would require the use of “Caribbean Spanish.” Similarly, if your message is very personal or has local competition, consider multiple regional variants to maximize appeal, especially in Latin America. It can also be cost-effective to start from Neutral Spanish and from that translation create the different variants of Spanish to help improve your prospects for this important global language.