Language differences between Spanish and Latin American Spanish

Although continental Spanish speakers will be able to make themselves understood in Latin America, and vice versa, there are some significant language differences of which businesses targeting both markets should be aware.

With around 400 million native speakers, Spanish is second only to Mandarin Chinese in its use around the world. It has official status in 21 countries – and the good news is, if you know it, you’ll be able to make yourself understood wherever you are. If you’re a business with a presence in both Spain and Latin America, though, you’ll need to fine tune your spoken and written language depending on the region or regions in which you’re operating. Here are just a few examples:

Pronunciation

Differences in pronunciation are probably the first thing you’ll notice and want to adjust when you’re communicating verbally over the phone or face to face with potential customers. Most obvious is the ‘lisp’ that exists across parts of Spain but not Latin America. ‘S’ sounds denoted by c and z (but not s itself) are pronounced ‘th’ in Spain, but ‘s’ in Latin America. There are other differences – for example, the ‘s’ sound at the end of many words is omitted in South America, as it is in parts of southern Spain. Because ‘s’ may be pronounced more softly, in some countries certain words can end up almost losing syllables.

Grammar

One of the chief differences is that Latin American Spanish does not have a separate pronoun for the second person (informal). In other words, there’s no vosotros, only ustedes. However, some countries – including Argentina and Uruguay – use the old-fashioned form vos, instead of tú, for the second person singular pronoun. You’ll need to be aware of such differences to ensure you address your clients correctly.

Vocabulary

Whilst many words are the same across the many Spanish-speaking countries, the differences can at times be striking. Aside from colloquial terms, there are a few common ones you’ll probably want to remember. In Spain a pen is boligrafo; in Latin America it might be lapicera (Argentina) or lápiz pasta (Chile). A potato is patata (Spain) but papa (Latin America). And ‘ok’ is vale in Spain but okay or bien in South America. Loan words from English are used much more frequently in South America than in Spain, and their spellings are often left unchanged (like email vs correo electrónico). The good news for writers of Spanish is that there are no real differences in spelling, as there are for UK and American English (recognize vs recognise, neighbor vs neighbour).

So, what does this all mean?

Although the Spanish language is more consistent in its use around the world than even English, there are still many minor but noticeable variations in pronunciation, grammar and terminology. These may be country- or even region-specific. When doing business, you’ll need to bear these differences in mind. When booking an interpreter for an upcoming meeting ensure you request an interpreter native to that country or region. Similarly, when considering translation of your marketing materials, it may be necessary to organise country-specific translations if you’re targeting multiple markets.

This may sound all sound like a bit of a headache, but thankfully, Comtec is here to help. We’re experts in all things languages and will be able to offer advice on how to proceed. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch on +44 (0) 1926 335 681 to discuss your needs with us!

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