Over 486 million people around the world speak Spanish. It’s an official language in 20 countries, and it’s the second most common native language in the world. But do all of these people speak Spanish in the same way? Are there different types of Spanish, and how much does that matter when you’re requesting a translation into Spanish? 

How many different types of Spanish are there? 

Spanish is usually divided into two broad groups: European Spanish and Latin American Spanish. They vary based on grammar and vocabulary, like the differences between British English and American English.

However, just as with British English and American English, these differences aren’t usually enough to impede communication. A Spanish speaker from Latin America will generally have no problem communicating with a Spanish speaker from Spain, though they may need to use context clues to decipher unfamiliar vocabulary.  

Even within Latin America, there is considerable regional variation in accent, vocabulary, and slang, just as there is in English or any other language spoken over a wide geographic area. Linguists have classified at least nine major dialect clusters in Latin America, and there are countless dialects in each cluster. The city of Los Angeles even has its own Spanish dialect.  

Again, this variation usually isn’t enough to impede communication. However, it can be a bit confusing. For example, a car can be a coche, carro or auto, depending on which country you’re in. Other possible meanings for coche include pig (Guatemala) and baby stroller (Chile). Meanwhile, guagua can mean baby or bus depending on the dialect. The different potential meanings for the word mona are a slap in the face just waiting to happen: it can mean a cute girl, a blond girl, a snobby girl, or a female monkey. 

Outside of these regional variations, there’s also neutral or standard Spanish. This isn’t really a dialect or type of Spanish. Instead, it involves making a conscious effort to choose words that are used throughout the entire Spanish-speaking world and to avoid slang, words that are specific to local dialects, and words that might carry unintended meanings in certain locales. (Some words that are perfectly innocent in one country are not suitable for polite company in others.)

You could say there’s only one type of Spanish since all of these dialects are mutually intelligible. You could say there are three types (Latin American, European, and standard). You could say there are too many types of Spanish to count. What matters is that your translation uses the right words for your project and your target market. 

What type of Spanish translation do you need?

When you need content translated into Spanish, does it matter what type of Spanish you use? The answer depends on the content you’re translating and the intended audience for that content. Here are some general guidelines. 

Standard Spanish has the advantage of being widely understood, but it can also come across as generic, sometimes even boring. It’s perfect for the following types of projects: 

  • Dry, informational content like contracts, manuals, or instruction booklets.
  • Content that’s intended for a general audience, like business books or newspaper articles. 
  • Scientific and academic content.

Standard Latin American Spanish can also be used for other types of content aimed at Latin America when you don’t have the budget to localize for specific countries. This approach saves money and is often a necessity for new companies that are just getting off the ground, but it may make it harder to build an emotional connection with your audience. 

European Spanish should always be used when your intended audience is in Spain. European Spanish and Latin American Spanish have a lot in common, but they’re just different enough that content in Latin American Spanish won’t resonate with Spanish speakers in Spain, and vice versa. 

When to use more local Spanish variants

There are also times when it makes sense to target specific Spanish-speaking markets with more localized translations. 

  • Products or services that are geared toward a specific region or country. Using the same language as your target audience, including regional variations, helps build an emotional connection. 
  • Marketing materials and advertisements perform better when they take local linguistic and cultural nuances into account. 
  • Materials aimed at specific niche audiences, especially younger demographics who use a lot of colloquialisms and slang. Customizing your content for the target market makes it seem more authentic and builds credibility.

If you’re targeting a specific market, it’s best to have a translator who not only knows Spanish but also knows the dialect and the culture. Two Spanish speakers from different regions can communicate easily with just a little patience, but it’s unrealistic to expect potential customers to struggle to decipher your meaning. That’s where localization comes in: it makes your brand easily accessible to your target audience.  

Need a translation into Spanish?

At TransForma, we focus on finding the best solutions to meet your needs. We can help you determine when using generic Spanish is the best course of action and when targeting a local market would be more effective. It’s all about finding the most effective path for you to reach your goals. To get started, contact TransForma for a quote today!