Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Spanish dialect should you translate into for use in the United States?

Many of our customers want to know what “type” of Spanish they should translate for use in the United States, particularly because of the diversity of Spanish speakers living in the United States. With good market research and choosing a right translator, you may be able to maximize the amount of information that your U.S. Spanish-speaking customers understand. This article is intended to help you choose the type of Spanish best suited for your customers.

The map below shows the concentration of Spanish speakers in the U.S. (the darker the blue, the higher the percentage). Note that the largest concentration of Spanish speakers is found in the Southwest, due to the historical connections with Mexico and more recent waves of immigration. The most common Spanish dialects, including Mexican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican, reflect the Spanish-speaking groups living in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, and New York respectively. A good generalization is that your material should be translated into Mexican Spanish if your intended market is the Western and Midwestern sections of the U.S., but not on the East Coast where there are sizable Puerto Rican and Cuban communities.

Spanish Speakers in the United States
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Yet linguists often like to categorize Spanish into larger umbrellas, which may help marketers target a larger community of Spanish speakers:
  • Central American Spanish – Particularly Mexico, for use in Central America or where large Central American populations reside
  • European Spanish, Peninsular or Iberian Spanish - For use in Spain, most specifically the Spanish spoken in the area in and around Madrid
  • South American Spanish – may include the dialects of the Rio de la Plata basin, known as rioplatense
  • Caribbean Spanish - spoken in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, and in major U.S. coastal cities such as Miami and New York
  • Latin American Spanish – a much larger umbrella category to refer to the Spanish spoken in all of Latin America and in the United States
With all these choices, it may be difficult to choose the right type of Spanish. Yet translators, who understand that material is intended for a wider audience, will avoid using colloquialisms in their translation. For example, a common term in Peninsular Spanish that is not used in Latin American Spanish is "ordenador", the word used for computer. The more anglicized term "computadora" is more common throughout Latin America. A Spanish speaker from Spain however; would understand the word “computadora” but not vice-versa. Similarly, the word for grass in Mexico is commonly understood as zacate but using césped would be equally understood and is more universal. When translating for the United States, it is important to convey what regions of the country you are trying to target. If you have a hard time choosing the right dialect or Spanish type, a translator should then be able to make the best decision for you.

For more information about our Spanish translation services, please visit our page at or contact a PLG representative at (847) 413-1688 or Toll Free: (800) 760-1688.

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