We get a large amount of requests on a daily basis for translation from English into Spanish, most of them for “dry” content: tax forms, contracts, financial reports, and so on. And occasionally the client will say something like, “this is for Colombia. Can you make sure this is translated into Colombian Spanish?”
There is no such thing as Colombian Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Spanish Spanish or any other variation. A Venezuelan can speak to a Bolivian and they will understand each other perfectly, although their accents will be slightly different and every once in a while one or both will use a word or an expression that the other won’t quite relate to. And every once in a while, it’ll happen that a Mexican will use a word that is perfectly innocent in Mexico but deeply profane in, say, Argentina, causing awkwardness and embarrassment … usually followed by a laugh, because it’s generally understood that the intent was not to offend or be crass; it’s simply a difference in usage. And while the 21 Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America don’t have their own Spanish per se, each has its own expressions and its own word variants.
But there is such a thing as “neutral” or “generic” Spanish, which is understood by every Spanish speaker regardless of country of origin. Spain is a special case: it’s still Spanish, but the language is very formal (the way that British English is very formal), and Latin American Spanish does not resonate very well with that population.
When it comes to communicating with a Spanish-speaking audience, you can take the neutral approach, or you can customize by country. The general-versus-local decision will hinge on business factors, and there are guidelines you should follow when considering the generic versus the in-market approach. The latter, by the way, is closely related to localization, a term that has a broader meaning that goes beyond country-specific speech to include things like local currency, the connotations of different colors, what’s appropriate to include in photos, and many other elements that are country- or culture-specific.
Neutral or generic Spanish works well in the following scenarios:
- When a company is just starting out. It’s tough for large companies to come up with the budget to adapt all translations to multiple markets; for a small company, it’s even more difficult.
- When the material is intended for a general audience. Readers of business books, for example.
- When the content is “dry” and doesn’t lend itself to cultural nuance. For example: instruction booklets, policy manuals, contracts, and other such content that is universally understood and does not emotionally connect with the user.
The local market approach is ideal for:
- Content that aims to “hook” the local target. Very creative or branded content that’s driven by the latest trends or fads, particularly as they relate to a specific country.
- Talking to a very specific local audience. Mothers of small children, teenagers, gamers, etc. These have very defined characteristics, usually discovered by local market research.
- When targeting the Spanish market (as in, Spain). If you have a product in the United States and you want to expand into England, you won’t use the exact same language as you do here. Nobody will relate to it. The same is true for Latin American content and Spain: the language is more formal, and the audience won’t relate to the neutral version; therefore, your marketing will start out with a strike against it.
At TransForma, we understand the factors that go into translating for different audiences. Contact us at email@example.com or call us at (305) 722-3827 for a quote on your next project.