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By Nahuel Villar
October 28, 2022

¿Tú o vos? ¿Vosotros o Ustedes? An introduction to the different variants of Spanish

With over 577 million speakers worldwide, the amount of localized content in Spanish is escalating quickly and has confirmed its presence in the to-do list of companies that want to go global. But the Spanish-speaking community is far from being homogeneous: The same content that has a great impact on Mexico might not be very relatable in Argentina and possibly be barely understandable in Spain. How can you know which variant of Spanish is the most suitable for each case then?

Prepare your mate, grab a tortilla and get your tapas ready for a rapid go-through on some of the main variants of the Spanish language.

Why should you localize your content in Spanish?

First things first. When it comes to budget management for global efforts, why should a company prioritize Spanish speakers to become truly international?

As you have read in the first paragraph of this article, there is a very large number of people today whose mother tongue is Spanish. I mean, LOTS of them. In fact, it is the second most spoken language in the world, only behind Mandarin, and more than 20 countries recognize Spanish as their main language or one of the official languages.

The two largest Spanish-speaking countries, Spain and Mexico, are among the 16 countries whose total GDP is over 1 trillion dollars. According to CSA Research, “English, Chinese (Simplified) Japanese, and Spanish [lead] the pack of most valuable online languages, with Spanish providing access to 10% of the world’s online-accessible GDP.

The economic power that the inhabitants of these countries have is not in line with their level of English proficiency, however. According to Education First, out of 112 countries, Spain ranked 33° and Mexico 92° in the English Proficiency Index. Argentina is the only country that ranked well in the “High Proficiency” category, while the rest of the Spanish-speaking nations are placed below “Moderate Proficiency.”

In terms of consumption, localized content remains a top priority for buyers. It does not matter if we are talking about B2B or B2C, “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” is a mandate among businesses or consumers. According to CSA Research, more than 90% of Mexico and Spain consumers are “Very Unlikely” or “Unlikely” to purchase products that don’t have localized User Interfaces (UI). If we take the rest of the Spanish-speaking community, the story remains the same: around 80% of consumers won’t purchase or buy anything that doesn’t have UI, admin documents, or email and chat support in Spanish.

The same applies to your online presence. A while ago we published this article about the importance of localization your website into Latin American languages, and it is still very valid. . Here are some more figures showing how to reach the Spanish-speaking population more effectively:

So, how many Spanish variants are there?

Spoken in more than 20 countries, you can pick almost as many variants of Spanish as the number of countries. These variants are the most widely spoken and the most different from each other.

European Spanish: Also called “Peninsular Spanish,” it refers to the variant spoken in Spain. It contains several dialects such as Castilian (the most common, which is spoken in Madrid and surrounding areas), Andalusian (spoken in the southern part of the country), and Canarian Spanish (a dialect from the Canary Islands which is quite similar to Caribbean Spanish).

Without getting much into Spain’s nationalisms and regionalisms, you should know that Castilian Spanish, while being the first or second language of 94% of the population, is not the only language spoken in the country. Catalan, Galician, Basque, and Aranese are official languages as well.

Mexican Spanish: A general mistake that companies often do is to assume that the variant spoken in Mexico is representative of the entire Latin America. While choosing this variant to localize is a valid choice due to its large demographic and reach, you should know that many localisms don’t function well in other countries in Latin America and may even sound weird to non-Mexican speakers.

Despite that, as the biggest Spanish-speaking country in the world, Mexico tends to get the most love in terms of localization, and most of the nearby countries are used to consuming content that is frequently translated for Mexican consumers.

US Spanish: This variant refers to the immense and growing US Spanish-speaking community. Were it a country, US Latinos would represent the 5th biggest GDP in the world. With 41 million native speakers and around 9 million who are fluent in the language, there are more speakers there than in Spain itself.

Another common mistake is to think that this community only speaks Mexican Spanish. This line of thought overshadows other origins of Latinos in the US, such as Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Venezuelan, Colombian and more.

One of the main differences when localizing for this community is that many anglicisms (such as “app” or “email”) are kept untranslated, in addition to many US or British formatting conventions such as time (12 hour-clock as opposed to 24-hour clock), commas and periods for decimal and thousand separators, units of measurement and dates (month before or after the day).

Rioplatense Spanish: This variant is spoken almost exclusively in the River Plate region, which represents the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay. This one is often seen as the black sheep of Spanish variants because it dramatically defers the other variants and dialects from the region. For non-Spanish speakers, this variant tends to be confused with Italian because of intonation and certain mannerisms.

This region is almost the only place where you will find voseo (the use of ‘vos’ instead of ‘tú’ for the second person singular and all the associated verb inflections that come with it), ‘sheísmo’ (a particular pronunciation of ‘ll’ and ‘y’ that sound like [sh] in English) and a huge amount of German, French, Italian and English words, due to the mass immigration process to this region at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

This variant is not often used for localization by global companies, as it leaves aside the large majority of Spanish speakers who are not from the region.

Latam Spanish: This variant cuts out most of the local variations and colloquialisms and tries to ensure the maximum understanding of the Spanish speakers of the Americas. Depending on the location, people might often feel left out if this variant is not properly implemented. As mentioned before, many people and companies tend to confuse Latam Spanish with the Mexican variant and therefore has a negative impact on their consumer experience.

If well used, this variant is the most effective way to successfully communicate to a larger community. Most Latinos will understand it as decades of this variant have been part of their lives, ranging from TV shows to every global company that has successfully integrated in the region.

Among its common rules, Latam Spanish tries to leave almost no terms in other languages. Time, decimals and measurement rules are all converted. As most of the region uses as the singular second person, all the verbs inflections are localized that way. Even for native speakers, this regional variant might be difficult to work with because it requires you to have a greater knowledge of the language outside your birth country.

Neutral Spanish: Similar to Latam Spanish, this variant is used to make messages understood by a larger variety of Spanish speakers in an attempt to impact consumers effectively across borders. This variant could be the preferred choice for technical and specialized texts such as instruction manuals, medical prospectuses and product descriptions. In other words, content that you need to understand but doesn’t have any meaningful or personal connection.

This variant sets the bare minimum for localization. Other types of texts and content are not recommended for this variant. In its intent to be as broad as possible, it derails the opportunity to breach the gap between a global company and a prospect. You could say that in general terms, localizing through this variant is not good enough, but is better than not having anything localized for Spanish-speaking consumers and businesses.

So which Spanish variant should I use for my project?

You probably have heard this before: Know your audience.

Identifying and segmenting your target audience will greatly increase your chances to connect with the business or consumer you are trying to reach.

In general terms, Neutral or Latam Spanish is the go-to variant when informational content needs to be translated. These should be used when translating something that, as said before, needs to be intelligible but does require a meaningful connection with your audience.

On the other hand, local variants and dialects are preferred when it comes to marketing content. This choice will, without any doubt, yield better financial results in the long term because of the feeling of trust it develops with your reader or consumer; an approach to content that will consider local culture and consumption.


How can OXO help you with your Spanish content?

You’ve eaten far too many tacos, there are no more tapas to share and you drank so much mate that your veins are green… and yet, you still don’t know what to do about your Spanish dilemma?

Don’t panic! OXO Innovation is the global content partner you need to develop your localization strategy and efficiently concentrate efforts to make the budget meet your needs.

Our Spanish department has worked with every one of these variants and is capable of assessing the best solution for you. We will assign the most qualified and carefully tested resources to your account based on your requirements. Depending on the volume, we can also recruit and put together a dedicated team for your account. We are there for you from strategy to delivery, so book a free consultation to discuss your Spanish needs today.

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