Microsoft Uses Neutral Spanish to Sell Their Products

neutral_spanish_translation.jpgBecause Spanish is spoken so widely across the world, there are actually several standardized Spanish variants. Some of the most common include Latin American Spanish, US Spanish, and European Spanish.

Neutral Spanish

Neutral Spanish (as used by Microsoft) can be compared to ‘universal’ Spanish, in that it is designed to be understood by all Spanish speakers worldwide. The term doesn’t refer to any one specific dialect, but instead refers to the process of finding terms or expressions that would be best suited to a multinational audience. This means it lacks all the regionalisms, colloquialisms, and grammatical quirks that characterize a dialect and connect it to a specific culture or nation. The idea behind this neutral Spanish is commercial and not linguistic: as Microsoft products are marketed globally, it is cheaper to produce only one version of the product in Spanish.

The Microsoft method

Very often, software is originally developed in the English language. As new English software terminology has emerged over the years, different Spanish-speaking countries have naturally coined their own translations for these new terms. Microsoft have developed a strategy to combat this, and make neutral Spanish as viable as possible for them. Through its Spanish Style Guide and language portal, the company has aimed to provide a single translation for each new term that arises, and to unify existing terms across Spanish-speaking nations. The goal is to use Spanish that can be understood everywhere, but is not confusing or offensive to any Spanish speaker.

Their approach includes several different methods of creating a ‘neutral’ text:

  • choosing the overall most widespread term
    (e.g. mouse instead of ratón, as the former is widespread but the latter is used in fewer countries)
  • choosing a term that isn’t commonly used anywhere, but in context, would be understood by all (e.g. equipo or PC for ‘computer’)
  • ruling out words or expressions that may have vulgar or offensive connotations in some areas, despite being commonly used and perfectly innocent elsewhere

This neutral language is developed and maintained with the help of glossaries that designate preferred terms, and those to avoid. Style Guides are also implemented, in order to provide all those involved in the localization of Microsoft products with company-specific linguistic guidelines. This highlights areas where Microsoft deviates from standard practices for Spanish localization. There are pros and cons to this approach. While a robust style guide like this undoubtedly leads to highly consistent translations and a strong brand identity globally, such a strictly neutral approach can be negatively received by users for whom the terminology is foreign, simply because it does not sound natural to them.

One way Microsoft can get around this is to preface their Spanish manuals with a note explaining that the document was written in universal Spanish, so that all of their customers could understand. This can head off criticism early on, and alert readers to the possibility of uncustomary terms.

Localizing Microsoft Products

Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, spoken in Spain, Latin America and Equatorial Guinea. In total, Spanish is used as a primary language in 21 nations. While the language is fundamentally the same, Spanish speakers from one country or region might find that the nuances, colloquialisms and variations in another region can cause confusion and even offense or embarrassment. So if only one Spanish dialect is used, it’s essential that it avoids such problems.

An optimal experience with consistent terminology is highly important to Microsoft, and their style guides and glossaries are testament to this. As Microsoft note in their Spanish style guide:

In today’s world of localization, the need to localize into “neutral” or “international Spanish” is a recurrent theme. It refers to the process of finding terms or phrases that would be understood or best suited to a multinational target audience. For instance, the term “computer” can be translated as “computadora”, “computador” or “ordenador” depending on the country or region in which that term is used. In order to avoid this, we at Microsoft, decided to use either “su PC” or “equipo”.

It is imperative that the localization of Microsoft products, websites and packaging complies with the Style Guide in order to guarantee an optimal user experience for all Spanish-speaking customers. No matter where Microsoft’s Spanish-speaking users come from, Microsoft ensures that their products are understandable and that no legal issues might arise for using a non-neutral term or concept.

Spanish is supported in 20 different locales in Windows. It’s important to note that while neutral Spanish is used in all user interface, commands and content (making these elements identical regardless of the locale), differences between these locales remain in the formatting of currency, date, time and numbers or decimal and thousands separators. This allows Microsoft to ensure that the translated products are effective in a practical way, although they may still miss the mark on a personalized customer experience.