How to Reach a Broader Audience with “Universal” Spanish

Dynamic Language | March 24, 2015

Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. The native language of around 470 million people and spoken in more than two dozen countries, Spanish is only second behind Mandarin in total number of native speakers.1 Spanish speakers represent a very large, and very geographically diverse group of consumers, and one of the biggest challenges in reaching these potential customers is finding a way to effectively communicate with the largest possible audience. Because each country and region has its own Spanish dialect, many terms aren’t likely to sound natural across different groups of speakers. Of course, there are general terms that are understandable and acceptable throughout the Spanish-speaking world and are considered “Universal” or “Neutral” Spanish. Communication in “Universal” Spanish addresses the vocabulary discrepancies which would be found in Spain (Castilian) and the Americas.

Address your Target Audience

By far, the most effective way to communicate in writing is to geographically and culturally define the target audience that you are trying to reach. Depending on your intended audience or locale, you’ll need to decide which Spanish dialect to select for translation. Do the target Spanish speakers live in the United States? In Mexico, or the entire Central American region? Or do they live on an entirely different continent, in the country of Spain? Since Spanish is a language rich with dialects, understanding your audience will have a critical impact on the power of your marketing strategy and overall communication. Using words and expressions that are appropriate for the speakers of a particular dialect will ensure that the readers understand, and more importantly, positively respond to your translated content.

But what if you hope to reach consumers who speak various Spanish dialects? Perhaps your company is expanding and needs to address Spanish speakers on a global scale. In this case, the use of regionally specific dialects often isn’t cost-effective or practical. Certain words or phrases that are acceptable in one dialect could be considered offensive, inappropriate, or completely misunderstood in another. An example of this would be the term for the verb “to catch”, where the commonly-used version in Spain is actually considered slang and quite vulgar in Latin American Spanish.

Simplify your Translation Needs

It becomes clear that it’s risky, if not impossible, to reach speakers of various Spanish dialects by using regionally specific Spanish. Translating or localizing your content into “Universal” Spanish may allow your organization to adopt a single version of all Spanish language material that can address every Spanish-speaking locale. “Universal” Spanish is the variation of the language that allows you to target a global Spanish speaking audience, and is designed to be understood by speakers of any dialect. Be warned, however, that although just about all Spanish speakers should be able to understand content written in “Universal Spanish”, it is unlikely that any readers will embrace the dialect or enjoy the experience.

The wording is devoid of figurative speech and idiomatic expressions specific to a particular culture. “Universal” Spanish is a generalized version of Spanish that retains all the basic features of the language’s syntactic and grammatical structures. At the same time, lexical structure goes through a generalization process, in which the most generic and widely used words and expressions are preserved, while the regionally specific ones are replaced.

For this reason, “Universal” Spanish is particularly popular in the IT, software, pharmaceutical, legal, manufacturing and retail industries. Here at Dynamic Language, navigating the complexities of Spanish translation has long been our strength, and we can help you determine the best strategy for reaching your target audience. Our expert translators possess in-depth knowledge of industry-specific Spanish terminology, “Universal” Spanish, as well as regionally specific dialects. We can help you determine the appropriate Spanish variation for your specific audience, and successfully lead you through the entire translation or localization process.

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