Is there such a thing as Universal Spanish?


What is Latin American Spanish? Can’t I just get one Spanish translation to work in all countries? Is there such a thing as Universal Spanish? And what is this Spanish for the US?

Although regarded as an easy language to learn, translating into Spanish can turn into one of the most complicated decisions for a company. Believe it or not, some of the most heated debates and discussions over proper terminology I have faced in my 7 years in the translation industry has been for Spanish. I always assumed it would be for much tougher languages like Japanese or Korean. The problem lies in the fact that Spanish is spoken in so many different countries across the globe.

Word Meanings often vary depending on the context and country, and not just for Spanish, but for English too. If I were to ask someone for the meaning of garage, an English speaker from the UK is likely to say this is the place where we get gas for your car. An American, on the other hand, would say it this is where you park your car. For this reason it’s essential to understand who makes up your audience and target market. With just those little differences between England and the US, some of which you are probably familiar with, imagine the multitude of differences that exist in Spanish. There are 21 countries with a total of 423 million people who speak Spanish, making it one of the most difficult languages to translate. Each country has its own unique culture and dialect, which can vary widely depending on the region but are still similar enough to be understood and considered the same language.

So, don’t get confused when you are in a Latin American country and want a straw for your drink and a straw in Colombia and Venezuela is “pitillo” but “popote” in Mexico and ”pajita” or “pajilla” in Spain but “bombilla” in Chile and Bolivia, even though “bombilla” means light bulb in most Spanish-speaking countries, and “caña” in Peru which is some slang term in Venezuela. Also, when looking for a swimming pool in most Spanish-speaking countries you should ask about the “piscina” but in Mexico you’ll need to ask about the “alberca” and the “pileta” in Argentina. Wow. With all that said, I hope on a hot day in some Latin American country we helped you find a pool and get a straw for that cold drink you’ll need.

With this being said, ask yourselves what is universal Spanish? Or what about US Spanish when we do not only have Mexicans who make up the US Spanish speaking population, but also many Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans? And how is it possible to have Latin America Spanish when there are over 15 countries with 15 or more different cultures on the entire continent that spans a vast region.

Therefore, it’s critical to know your audience in order to transmit an accurate message. It’s also critical that if you want to use one translation to reach many different Spanish speaking regions and countries, it’s best to work with a professional translation agency who understands the challenges and can provide you with experts and leading translators from multiple countries. Working with speakers for several countries ensures that terminology for is specific to one country would be flagged and amended in favor of a more neutral one. This is just one tactic that LingPerfect employs when completing “Universal Spanish” translations.

pager_left Previous Next pager_right
Learn more
Here is a selection of other interesting reads: