Translators are front-line witnesses to the fascinating tug-of-war between established authorities that act as the arbiters for the “proper” way to speak a language (e.g. the Royal Spanish Academy, the French Academy, the Oxford English Dictionary)… and life (do you remember when it was “electronic mail”, or have you noticed how “diss” has migrated from hip-hop records to well, everywhere, including the national nightly news?). Since Miami is the crossroads of the Hispanosphere, TransForma is uniquely positioned to observe how hispanophones engage in this linguistic tug-of-war when it comes to translation from Spanish to English.

Regional Differences in Spanish

Chuspa Bolsa and FundaOf the three Spanish words in the title, the most universally recognized is “bolsa”, which is derived from the Latin “bursa.” But writers and speakers are often unconscious of the universal reach of their expression, or to the contrary, are deeply aware and choose the more regional word to make a point. “Chuspa” is a Quechua word for “bag” or “sack”, and it has been adopted into the Spanish spoken in Colombia (especially Southwestern Colombia), Ecuador and Perú. “Funda” is used in the Dominican Republic to mean “bag”. Now, just when you thought you were safe, “funda” is also universally used to mean “pillow case” or “cover”, as in cushion cover. Dizzy yet?

But this is hardly the only example. The words “frijoles,” “fríjoles” (with an accent on the “I”), “habichuelas,” “caraotas” and “porotos” all mean “beans.” If you find yourself at a restaurant in Argentina asking the server if they have “frijoles,” you may get a blank stare until you explain what you want. The server will respond, “Yes, we have ‘porotos.’”

here comes the busIn Chile, if you say “por ahí viene la guagua” and you mean “here comes the bus,” your listener will hear, “here comes the baby.” If you ask a Spaniard for a “pluma” because you want to borrow a pen, she may wonder why you’re asking for a feather and not a “bolígrafo.” And by the way, the word “pluma” can mean “feather,” “pen” or “tap” depending on the country. In Peru, they would advise you not to drink water from the “caño” (or the “tap”). “Pantalla” can mean “screen” (as in computer screen, television screen, movie screen) or it can mean “earring.” The word “fresa” means ‘strawberry” in many countries, while in others it can be a derogatory term for someone who is snobbish or materialistic. 

Many years ago, an airline changed its airplanes’ seats to leather and developed an advertising campaign with the tagline “Fly in leather.” When the campaign was taken to Latin America, the three words were literally translated into Spanish as “Vuele en cuero”… but the phrase “en cuero” is almost universal Latin American slang for “naked.” As a consequence, millions of dollars were spent telling Latin Americans to fly naked on this particular airline. Funny? Of course. But not to the marketing executive who probably lost his job as a result.

As a consequence, millions of dollars were spent telling Latin Americans to fly naked

The List of Examples Is Long

Spanish-speaking countries are spread out across a wide geographical area and have developed their own unique histories, cultures and dialects over time. As a result, the Spanish language has evolved differently in various places, resulting in different meanings for some words.

One reason for the variation in meaning is the influence of indigenous languages on the Spanish language. In many Latin American countries, the indigenous population has had a significant impact on the language, and many words have been adopted from these languages. These words may have different meanings or connotations in different countries. Spanish has also been influenced by other languages, including Arabic, English and Portuguese, among others. These influences can lead to variations in word usage and meaning. Overall, the diversity of Spanish-speaking countries, their histories and cultural influences have all contributed to the variation in meaning of certain words. Also, language is constantly evolving and changing, and regional differences are a natural part of this process.

It’s important for a translation company to be aware of the differences in the Spanish language that pertain to different countries. Here’s why:

  1. Accuracy. The main goal of a translation company is to accurately convey the intended message from one language to another. Lack of awareness of these regional differences can lead to confusion or misunderstanding.
  2. Cultural sensitivity. A translation company that’s aware of these differences can ensure cultural sensitivity and appropriateness for the intended audience. By understanding these differences, the company can provide localized translations that are tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the target audience.

Being aware of the differences in regional Spanish is essential to providing accurate, culturally sensitive and localized content that effectively communicates the intended message to the intended audience.

How TransForma Handles Regional Differences

How do we at TransForma make sure that you, our client, is not negatively affected by this linguistic tug-of-war? The short answer: Attention to details. When a client approaches us for a translation from Spanish to English, we first determine the document’s country or region of origin and the nature of the document (government issued, legal, technical, marketing). Then, we make every effort to assign the task to a translator from that country or region with expertise in the document’s subject-matter. After all, we wouldn’t want to deliver a translation of a document originating in the Dominican Republic that said that people carry their groceries home in a pillow case. We apply the same methodology to all our translation projects, regardless of the language combination. We know that there are subtle but crucial differences within every language, be it between Portuguese as used in Brazil and Portugal, or famously, English English and American English (two countries divided by a common language).

At TransForma, we love language. We’re not intimidated by the challenges posed by regional differences. Just the opposite: we’re enthralled by them, and our challenge is to deliver a translation that is faithful to the meaning and context of the original document. You can learn more about us at If you need our help in the tug-of-war, please email us at, or call us at 305-722-3827.