You see it on billboards during your morning commute and hear it when you turn on the television or wait in the check-out line at the grocery store. With an estimated 41 million native speakers in the United States alone, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world. In their study El español: una lengua viva [Spanish: a living language], the Instituto Cervantes confirms that the United States has the largest Spanish speaking population after Mexico. Purchasing power among Hispanic Americans is projected to double every decade. Targeting this growing demographic requires Spanish-language versions of marketing materials from commercials and catalogs to websites and mobile apps.
But which Spanish? Our clients sometimes ask for “neutral” Spanish, but there is no clear agreement on what exactly that is. Spanish speakers in the U.S. hail from 21 different countries whose official language is Spanish. Each one of these countries has its own slang, idioms, and distinct nuances in lexicon. Terminology can vary: a word used in one country may have an entirely different meaning in another. For example, in the southern cone of South America guagua is a colloquial term for baby, but in parts of Cuba and the Canary Islands, the same term refers to a public bus.
If you are translating from US English into Spanish for U.S. audiences, these are some questions you’ll want to consider:
Are you translating into Spanish to reach specific regional groups of recent immigrants living in the U.S.? Your language service partner can help decide whether you need to tailor the language for speakers from Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin America, or another region entirely.
Are you translating into Spanish for national U.S. audiences? The biggest demand for translations for these audiences is in the area of law, health care, and employee relations. The closest thing to a standard North American dialect is Mexican Spanish, but it is more important that translators for these types of materials be proven subject matter experts.
Do you intend to use these Spanish translations in other Spanish speaking countries? Translations for U.S. Spanish speakers are not always useful and relevant in other countries. This especially applies to marketing and advertising material, which should be always be tailored for a specific audience, whether it be Spain, Chile, or the Dominican Republic. Native translators/copywriters can provide “transcreation” for the specific region or country for more impact, and take into account other cultural considerations as well.
Spanish spoken in the U.S. is constantly evolving in order to keep up with new English language terms and concepts within the healthcare and technology industries. Estadounidismos (Americanisms) like tuitear [to tweet] and copago [copay] are now officially accepted terms by the Royal Academy of Spain in Madrid [Real Academia Española]. Leticia Molinero of the North America Academy of the Spanish Language remarks: “Spanish in the United States is going to change the language due to its strength and drive…it is Spanish for everyone that doesn’t give preference to one or the other.” In some areas, U.S. Spanish could eventually be considered “neutral” Spanish.
Being as specific as possible about the audience for whom your materials are intended will help your language service partner put together the best team of linguists to ensure a successful outcome for your project.