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Translate into European Spanish or Latin American Spanish?

Spanish is the official language in 20 countries. It is spoken by 417 million people around the world (Ethnologue) and it’s the third language used online after English and Chinese.

Even if it’s not an official language, Spanish is the second most used language in the United States;  95% of population speak Spanish in Puerto Rico, 43% in New Mexico, 34% in California, etc. (United States Census Bureau).

So, if you are looking for Spanish translation services, these are some of the questions you have to be prepared to answer: are you looking for European Spanish, or Latin American Spanish? What’s your target market?

Here are some differences explained by one of our Spanish translators:

The Spanish language has maintained an idiomatic unity through centuries thanks to the Real Academia Española (the official institution that regulates the language) objective to preserve that unity with the help of the 22 academies that exist in that same number of Spanish-speaking countries.

Although the same written standards are used, there are some spoken varieties in the different countries. The differences between Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Latin America have to do mainly with pronunciation and vocabulary, in addition to some minor lexical and grammatical variations.

For example, in Spain they use the “ceceo”, in which the “c” is pronounced as a “z”.  There are also variations in second-person pronouns and verbs, whereas in Spain and some countries in Central and South America they use the “vos” and the “vosotros”, and in the rest of the countries they use the “tú”.  In addition, in some countries they use the comma as the whole number separator and in others they use the period.

Regional varieties of Spanish differ mostly in terms of vocabulary.  This includes both words that exist only in certain varieties (especially words borrowed from Latin America indigenous languages), and words that are used differently in specific areas.  A good example is the word “bean”, known as “judía” and “alubia” in Spain, “frijol” in Mexico and Central America, “poroto” in the South Cone, “caraota” in Venezuela and “habichuela” in the Caribbean; another example is the word “closet”, which is known as “armario” in Spain, “placard” in some South American countries and “closet” in the rest of Latin America.

The differences in vocabulary and pronunciation do not severely block cross-understanding among the educated. Some companies, like Microsoft, have been able to maintain just one neutral Spanish version for the translation of their software products, which is used in all Spanish-speaking countries. Microsoft’s linguists have cleverly resolved some regionalism dilemmas. For example, for the term “computer”, which in Spain is an “ordenador” and in Latin America is a “computadora”, they have opted to use the neutral terms “equipo” and “PC”.  Although the settings in the programs allow the user to choose a version for a specific country, the differences are mostly technicalities, like the punctuation of numbers.