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Spanish and Its Many Variants

aerial view of town in spain

Did you know that Spanish, with approximately 450 million speakers, is the second-most spoken native language in the world? It’s the official spoken language in more than 20 countries across America and Europe, and, at the same time, there is a large and increasing number of speakers in the United States, Philippines, and Belize. It is estimated that over the last 10 years this number grew by 30%, and the number of people studying it increased by 60%.

All of this, in addition to its extended geographical reach, makes Spanish a rich and versatile language, and the third most used language by the number of users in the world, after English and Mandarin Chinese.

However, because it is such a diverse language, it can be unclear how to approach translations. The Spanish language has different written and spoken variants, and it might be difficult to determine which form is best for your audience.

So, how do you know which variant of Spanish is best? Unfortunately, you cannot just localize into one Spanish that will work everywhere. With this article, we try to shed some light on the differences between Spanish forms and hopefully, once you reach the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of them. Additionally, we try to offer some tips to help you decide the best alternative for your client.

Don’t panic, please.

Let’s first take a look at the two most distinctive strains: Spain Spanish (es-Latn-ES) and Latin American Spanish. Added to that, within the Latin American Spanish branch, we can find three main subdivisions: Mexican Spanish (es-Latn-MX), US Spanish (es-Latn-US), and Latam Spanish (es-Latn-419).

Let’s take a deep look into them to get a broader understanding of their differences. Hopefully, that will help you choose the correct variant for each client.

Es-Latn-ES: This is the Spanish spoken in Spain, solely, and it is probably the least sought variety of Spanish, although it’s the variant from which all the other branches emerged. It’s the most isolated dialect and probably only a few clients will request their jobs to be translated into it due to its small size market.

Es-Latn-MX: Mexico has the highest number of Spanish speakers in the world and, although it’s considered part of Latin America, the region has a variant in its own. Mexican Spanish greatly differs from other varieties of Spanish, it has a wide variety of idioms and terms that makes it unique and specific to Mexico itself. This variant is spoken in Mexico, some parts of the US and Canada, so, because of its large demography and reach, in many cases, it could be the selected alternative. However, don’t get easily deceived! Although this variant works perfectly for a Mexican audience, it won’t effectively garner desired results in other Spanish-speaking markets.

Es-Latn-US: Although hard to believe, the U.S. has currently the second-largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. This variant usually refers to the Spanish nuance heard within the US. It is worth mentioning that, even though the U.S. and México are bordering countries, there’s a misconception that the Spanish variant that is mostly spoken in the U.S. is the Mexican one. Actually, the influence of Hispanics who have migrated to the U.S. from various Latin American countries over the past decades has motivated a Spanish variant of its own. Because of the coexistence of Spanish and English in the U.S., this Spanish variant preserves many of the English formatting conventions to make it more familiar to the U.S. audience such as date, decimals, time, and even capitalization. Here’s a key tip, if the translation targets the U.S. Spanish-speaking community, then… bingo! You are in front of your best choice!

Es-Latn-419: This variant is aimed at Latin American Spanish speakers. Latin America is a vast group of countries that extends from Mexico’s border in the South to the southern tip of Argentina. All in all, they add up to 33 countries, and in 18 of them, Spanish is the official language. Each one has its nuance and dialect. There isn’t one uniformed Spanish variant that would cover all those countries, mostly because of the distance that separates the countries from each other. So, in order to provide a unified alternative for Latin American Spanish speakers, the “LATAM Spanish” variant was created. This alternative avoids using local and idiomatic vocabulary or grammar and goes for more neutral options. This is a broader variant of the Mexican Spanish.

​​​​​​​It is no news that Spanish is a challenging language. We are sure you will relate to this video. Despite its many variants, translating for Spanish speakers does not have to be a daunting task!  So, when thinking of the best approach, please consider making the message sound natural to the people living in the target locale. With that in mind, chances of failure are reduced to its minimum!

​​​​​​​Written by Daniela Geraci, Quality Manager at Akorbi

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