Spanish is the official language in 21 countries and there are around 470 million persons who speak Spanish as their native language around the globe. There are differences in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation in the Spanish language spoken in different Spanish speaking countries.
Of course it would be great to localize each translation for each country. But imagine a website with 20 versions of Spanish: Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Mexico), Spanish (Guatemala), Spanish (Argentina), Spanish (Puerto Rico), Spanish (Venezuela),… The other country where Spanish is the official language is Equatorial Guinea, it’s spoken by 90% of the population, although is not the primary language.
What’s Latin American Spanish?
Some clients choose to translate their documents, manuals, websites,… into Latin-American Spanish and European Spanish. But what’s Latin American Spanish? Is it a language? While the European Spanish (or Castilian Spanish) is the language used in Spain; Latin-American Spanish is not a language in itself and it refers to the Spanish language spoken in the Americas.
Latin America is a geographical term and not a linguistic one. The Spanish speaking countries in Latin America are: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela. Yes, there are 19 Spanish speaking countries in Latin America, and therefore 19 versions of Spanish.
So what should I do? I don’t want 21 translations…
A solution to avoid ordering 21 different Spanish translations is what is called neutral, standard or international Spanish. The RAE (Royal Spanish Academia or Real Academia Española) defines Spanish without idioms and regional mannerism the standard or neutral Spanish. And for them this should be the correct language used in any formal writing. The RAE was founded in Madrid in 1713 and since then has been the institution commissioned to safeguard the correct use of the Spanish language.
The Spanish spoken in Spain is the most neutral version of Spanish. Multinational companies use neutral Spanish to translate manuals, websites, software… But is it really neutral? Unfortunately the answer is no. Let’s be honest the Real Spanish Academia Española has its base in Madrid, in Spain, that’s why the Spanish they propose as the standard Spanish is the Castilian Spanish. Even Microsoft and most CAT tools (like Trados) determine the Spanish from Spain as the neutral Spanish, you will find: Spanish (Spain, International Sort).
Each country, region or community where Spanish is spoken has its own vocabulary, and linguistic differences. For example, “computer” is “computadora” in Argentina, “computador” in Chile and “ordenador” in Spain; “Car” is “auto” in Chile, “carro” in Honduras and “coche” in Spain. Sometimes it’s possible to find a neutral word like “equipo” for computer, which would be understood in every Spanish speaking country but would not be specific for any of them.
Which version of Spanish should I choose to translate my site or document?
Any Spanish speaking person would be able to understand any variation of Spanish, just like a person from New York would understand a person from London, Johannesburg or Sydney.
Before ordering a Spanish translation you should ask yourself: — Who would be my target audience? — Imagine that you want to translate a site into Spanish to promote a product you want to launch, let’s say, in Mexico, you should look for a Mexican translator. But if you want to launch this product in Mexico, Argentina and Spain, it would be easier to look for a translator from Spain, rather than ordering 3 different translations, wouldn’t it?
Spanish is the official language in 21 countries that’s why there are 21 different versions of Spanish. The first step before ordering a translation is to know which Spanish version of Spanish would be the best for your document or web site. Just take a minute to think: — Who would be your target audience, target market or target country? — If you want to sell a product, where do you want to sell it? — If you want to reach an audience, where this audience would be from? If your answer to any of these answers is more than one Spanish speaking country, the best would be to translate your document to Castilian Spanish, or Spanish from Spain.