What to Keep in Mind when Translating and Localizing into Latin American Spanish

When translating texts to be used in Latin America, we must keep in mind the subtle differences that exist from country to country with respect to not only cultural differences, but also to everyday terms. This may also be applied to a business context; if a client needs to implement a product in Latin America, they must remember that their product may not be successful in every country if they are not familiar with the proper terms.

Now, of course there are “neutral” words that make it much easier for Latin Americans to understand each other, but in many cases, there can still be confusion, even when just talking about everyday topics or topics without great significance. It is common for there to be differences in specialized areas such as cooking and some technical areas, like mechanics, etc., but it is also important to understand the differences in the everyday terminology of the end users of our products.

Latin American Spanish is diverse and rich, therefore a good translation should be done by a native speaker from the country for which the product is intended. If a native translator is not available, consider then a good localization service.

For example, let’s take a look at Caribbean Spanish, which is spoken in the island countries of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, as well as the coastal areas, extending into Venezuela, northern Colombia and most of Panama. Another variety is Central American Spanish, which is spoken in the Central American Countries of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. More specifically, each variety can also be broken down by country, into for example, Peruvian Spanish, Chilean Spanish and “Rioplatense” Spanish, which is spoken in Argentina and Uruguay. As we can see, Spanish has many varieties.

A specific example of a product that should be marketed carefully in other countries is the Argentine candy called “Pico Dulce.” Now, there wouldn’t many complications with marketing this product in most countries, unless it was going to be sold in Chile. In that country the word “pico” is used informally to refer to the male sex organ. Therefore, the name “Pico Dulce” may not be the most adequate when marketing the product in Chile.

As we can see, this rich language has many variations and if you, the client, wish to expand your business, be sure to consider the importance of working with native translators and especially, the importance of good localization services.

Now let’s take a look at some examples of other words whose meanings can change depending on the country:

•Work: in Chile this can be expressed as “pega,” in Honduras and Mexico as “chamba” and in Argentina as “laburo.”
• Young person: in Chile this can be expressed as “cabro,” in Venzuela as “chamo,” in Mexico as “chavo” and in Puerto Rico as “muchacho.”
• The term “Guagua” Ecuador and Chile refers to a baby; in Cuba and Puerto Rico to a truck, and in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to a bus.
• Snack: in Chile this is expressed “picoteo,” in Argentina as “una picadita,” in México as “botana” or “antojitos,” in Venezuela as “pasapalo,” in Spain as “tapas” and in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as “picadera.”
• Underwear: in Chile this is expressed as “calzones,” in Spain as “bragas,” in Argentina as “bombachas,” in Mexico and Venezuela as “pantaletas,” or also in Venezuela as “blumers.”
• Bus: in Argentina this is known as a “colectivo,” in Chile as a “micro,” in Mexico as a “camión,” in Spain as an “autobús,” in Puerto Rico and the Domincan Republic as a “guagua” or “voladora” and in Venezuela as a “carrito” or “buseta.”
• Stapler: in Puerto Rico this is expressed as “grapadora,” in Chile as “corchetera,” in Argentina as “abrochadora,” in Paraguay as “presilladora,” in Ecuador and Uruguay as “engrampadora” and in Venezuela as “engrapadora.”