When (and When Not) to Localize into Neutral Spanish

Spanish is often one of the first languages global companies target for localization. And no wonder—the Spanish-speaking world is an economic powerhouse with 480 million native speakers and a thriving online population of more than 330 million.

But what many marketers don’t realize is how nuanced Spanish can be. Since there are 21 nations that list Spanish as their official language, there are 21 distinct dialects. With a limited budget, you can’t reasonably localize into them all.

One way companies can work around this challenge is by using what’s called “neutral” Spanish.

What is neutral Spanish?

Also known as “standard” or “international” Spanish, neutral Spanish is a convention that doesn’t technically exist as a language per se, but refers to the process of finding terms and phrases that are universally understood by all Spanish speakers or best suited to a multinational target audience.

Neutral Spanish is almost Latin American Spanish. Latin America, a diverse region with cultural and linguistic influences from the Amazon to the Andes, from West Africa to Europe, is by no means homogenous. But as the largest Spanish-speaking region—surpassing Mexico, the US and Spain, which we explore in more depth in our new ebook—Latin America’s regional dialect is considered “neutral” as the one most Spanish speakers can understand.

To make it truly neutral, translators might need to exclude idioms and regionally specific terminology. For example, while the term “computer” can be translated in several ways (computadora in Latin American Spanish), neutral Spanish uses PC or equipo to avoid controversy.

Nobody really uses terms like these in day-to-day speech, however. They’re more likely to use their own dialect, which is why our clients see better results from localizing at the country level for certain types of projects—namely, creative marketing communications or highly branded content (more on this below). But for others, choosing neutral Spanish is the most cost-effective way to cast the widest net possible. Let’s explore what those situations are.

You know neutral Spanish could work for you when…

Neutral Spanish allows you to localize your content for almost every person or group you want to address. Otherwise, you have to look at the cost-benefit of tailoring your content to specific dialects.

A general rule of thumb is to use neutral Spanish when the cost isn’t worth the benefit—or more specifically, if:

…you’re just getting started.

If you’ve yet to translate any content and targeting mostly markets other than Spain, consider neutral. It’s often too costly even for big companies to produce and test content in multiple versions of Spanish, so neutral Spanish is an adequate compromise and a smart way to test the Spanish waters. Another bonus is that Latin American Spanish translation is typically cheaper than Spanish for Spain.

…you’re localizing high-volume, technical content.

The best application for neutral Spanish is high-volume, low-risk, technical content like manuals, contracts and specifications, where there are fewer cultural considerations or variants of words. This type of content doesn’t need to be emotionally powerful. It tends to use simple, plain language—the perfect scenario for neutral Spanish.

So when is neutral not appropriate?

While the differences between Latin American dialects aren’t as pronounced as in other regions, they should ideally not be ignored. Spanish speakers recognize neutral Spanish for what it is: dry and vaguely alien. Your language service provider can help you decide when it’s too much of a risk.

For example, we wouldn’t recommend using neutral Spanish when targeting a very specific audience, such as teenagers in Colombia. For that, you’d need to localize at the country level. Or perhaps you already have content in Latin American Spanish and want to expand to Europe? Look into adaptation into Spanish for Spain. For a fraction of the original price, an experienced linguist can “edit” the material from one dialect to another, using assets (like a dialectical glossary) to guide the work.

And if you’re creating creative or highly branded material? All bets are off. In highly culture-specific materials like these, distinctions between terminologies are undeniable: what sounds odd won’t catch the audience’s attention, or worst-case scenario, will offend. This is when it’s vital to work with in-country experts who can transcreate your content with cultural nuances in mind.

Looks like neutral Spanish isn’t for me this time. What’s next?

No matter where your audience is located, you need to be sure your content is not only understandable, but resonant with the target market. If you’re creating marketing content but don’t yet have a market in mind, you’re faced with a tough choice: which dialect should you choose?

 

It’s a complex decision, but we walk you through it in our definitive guide, How to Choose Dialects for the Spanish-Speaking Market. It’s packed with everything you need to know about the differences in dialects, cost-saving opportunities, and how to get started marketing for the Spanish-speaking world. Download your free copy today!