With more than 460 million Spanish speakers in the world, there inevitably exists an endless array of differences. This is the first part of a series of posts that will explore the way people across the Hispanophone word address each other, call things, the accents they use and more.
There are differences from country to country, region to region and within regions. Understanding the intricacies and differences is important to a successful Spanish-language marketing campaign and will help you more precisely target a specific audience.
For the first part in the series, we’ll look at Spanish in Spain versus Latin America.
The biggest differences in Spanish probably exist between Spain and Latin America. The accent, verb conjugations, vocabulary, etc., range from subtly different to almost foreign. Of course people in Spain watch movies and listen to music from all over Latin America and, likewise, people in Latin America consume media from Spain. Spanish anywhere is intelligible to any native Spanish speaker, and because of the cultural exchange through media, there exists a familiarity with regional accents and vocabulary among people from different regions.
One of the most distinguishing features of Spanish in Spain is the accent. The letters “c” and “z” are pronounced like “th,” so the word “gracias” (thank you) sounds something like “GRA-thee-as” whereas in Latin America it sounds something like “GRA-see-as.” In pretty much all of Latin America, “c” and “z” are pronounced like “s” to the point where “c,” “z” and “s” all sound the same. The one exception could be considered Caribbean countries like Cuba or the Dominican Republic where the “s” is barely pronounced at all.
Another very unique feature of Spanish from Spain is the use of “vosotros,” which is the plural form of the familiar “tú.” In Spanish, there are both a formal way to address someone, “usted,” which is used as a sign of respect, and then “tú,” which is used between friends or to convey a more familiar tone. (In many parts of Latin America “vos” is used in place of “tú” as the familiar, singular form of “you,” but we’ll get more into that in another post.) In all of Latin America, whether they use “tú” or “vos” as the singular form of the familiar “you,” when referring to more than one person, the plural form “ustedes” is used, which is technically the familiar plural form of “you.” In Spain, however, to address a group of people familiarly, “vosotros” is used, which carries a completely different verb conjugation.
Here are some examples:
How are you (one person, familiar)
Latin America: ¿Cómo estás (tu)?
Spain: ¿Cómo estás (tu)?
In the singular, there’s no difference between Spain and Latin Amerca.
How are you? (group of people, formal)
Latin America: ¿Cómo están (ustedes)?
Spain: ¿Cómo están (ustedes)?
Again, no difference between Spain and Latin America in formal plural. But….
How are you? (group of people, familiar)
Latin America: ¿Cómo están (ustedes)?
Spain: ¿Cómo estáis (vosotros)?
Vosotros is not used in daily life in Latin America but is perfectly understood. It is used in religious contexts, such as the bible, and of course is often heard in movies, books and music from Spain. Spanish in Spain tends to be less formal than Latin America. It’s very common to greet a stranger with “tú” or a group of strangers with “vosotros.” In Latin America, it’s much more common to use “usted/ustedes” except with people you know very well. That said, there are plenty of differences within Latin America, so it does need to be noted that this is a bit of a generalization. Again, we’ll get more into that in a later post.
Generally speaking, there are enough differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and Latin America, that it’s worth investing in specific marketing strategies to target each region separately. Not only are the language differences significant, the markets have many different characteristics overall, which make it a good idea to employ two separate strategies.
For something like simple webcopy, you can probably get away with a single strategy. Obviously, pronunciation isn’t an issue, and web copy tends to use the familiar “tú” except in Argentina and Uruguay where they use “vos” in place of “tú.”
The differences also extend to certain vocabulary, particularly slang. But pronunciation, the use of vosotros and the tendency for Spain to be generally more formal than Latin America are the biggest differences that matter to most marketers. Additionally, the majority of United States-based companies and organizations tend to use Spanish to speak to audiences in the U.S. and Latin America. Follow our blog as we explore more of the differences among countries and regions in Latin America and within the United States.