Spanish Translation – The Most Common Traps for Marketers

Did you know that Spanish is the second most widely-spoken native language in the world? With around 470 million native Spanish speakers across the globe, and over 60 million people who have learned it as a second language, it’s second only to Mandarin, the most popular language. Given these numbers, it’s no surprise then that the need for Spanish translation is great!

In this article we look at what you must be aware of when translating marketing campaigns into Spanish, and how you can ensure that the approach you take for Spanish translation is always the right one.


¿Hablas español?

So, we know that this Romance language, the language of Cervantes and Borges, Garcia Marquez and Fuentes is widely spoken, but exactly how many countries have Spanish as their official language? It’s twenty (plus an unincorporated US territory, Puerto Rico). Namely: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela. Phew!

Unsurprisingly, this means that there are several dialects and varieties of Spanish –even within the countries themselves.

Another trait of Spanish translation is language expansion. When English is translated into Spanish, the amount of copy expands by approximately 25% – something that needs to be taken into consideration for any international ad campaign.

But back to the different varieties of the language. Does this matter when you are translating your marketing campaign into Spanish? Do you need to localise your copy for every target market? Or does one size fit all?


Latin American vs. Spanish translation

Well, there are similarities and differences between the varieties.

The pronunciation certainly varies across the different countries. And there are disparities in vocabulary, too. It is often the most common, everyday words, which differ from country to country. For example, the word “cuadra”, which has the standard meaning of “stable” or “pigsty”, means “city block” in many variants of American Spanish. And there are at least ten different varieties of the word “bus” across the countries of South America!

Although the grammar varies to a lesser degree, there are nevertheless important variations to be aware of. For example, the use of the second-person pronouns, which differs between the different Spanish-speaking countries.

For brands, overlooking these differences may be risky, especially when it comes to advertising and social media, where colloquialisms are often used.

In other words, one size does not fit all!

So what about a bilingual country, on the other hand, such as the US and its Spanish-speaking population?


The Hispanic Market in the US: Opportunities and Risks

There are around 52 million Spanish speakers in the US – it’s the second largest Spanish speaking population in the world. An attractive market for any brand.

What’s more, Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing groups of “super consumers” in the US, and brands should not forget this if they wish to reach this audience.

Brands should consider translating content into Spanish, and localising campaigns targeted to Hispanic customers in the US.

Language matters to these consumers (although it is not as important as culture). For some US Hispanic consumers, Spanish and bilingual content online are signals that you wish to engage with them. And they remember a brand which offers this. Who doesn’t want their life to be made easier when navigating the Internet, for example? And to feel recognised and valued by a brand?

And as a brand, why run the risk of giving your customers a reason to go to your competition, who might have bilingual content when you do not?

Marketers can reach US Hispanics online throughout the entire web experience, especially during the research phase of the consumer’s purchase journey, by making use of both English and Spanish terms. And given the audience’s bilingual nature, brands should consider developing advertising campaigns in both English and Spanish, even if both direct to an English landing page. Your target audience will appreciate it, and you might make a loyal customer as a result!

Market research, then, is key. When it comes to Spanish translation, with its several different varieties and dialects, and different groups of consumers, it’s especially important to always do market research and turn to translation professionals who can advise on the best approach for each target market.


Recommended Approaches

Here at Creative Translation we have a vast amount of experience in Spanish translation projects, and we can advise on the best approach according to your particular needs.

Unless you have specific target markets in mind (e.g. Mexico, Argentina), we suggest translating into EU Spanish (Castilian), the official language of Spanish speaking countries in South and Central America. It’s one of the six official languages of the United Nations, European Union and Mercosur and therefore it can be described as international Spanish.

If you do need to take into account a number of different target markets, we understand that translating from scratch into each Spanish variant can be expensive. A more cost-effective solution we propose is to start with translation into one Spanish variant and then have this translation adapted for other Spanish-speaking markets by native copywriters.

During the last century, in order to avoid an overabundance of slang and colloquialisms in Latin American Spanish variations, the concept of “neutral Spanish” has been introduced. While it can be tempting to resort to “neutral Spanish” to cut costs and produce materials that work across the Spanish-speaking world, the result would be an inevitably less-natural sounding text. This result doesn’t affect technical translations too much, however the situation is different with marketing and advertising: adapting the copy for a specific market can make a huge difference in terms of brand perception and effectiveness.


If you are looking for help with Spanish translation, wherever your target market may be, give us a call today on +44 (0)207294 7710 or email us at and we’ll be happy to help.

Photo Credit: jairojehuel / pixaboy