Spanish Variants for Localization

There are 534 million Spanish speakers living in 22 countries, including the US.

Territories where Spanish is spoken are diverse and unique, and they have their own geographical, historical, and socioeconomic characteristics. It is therefore not surprising that in each region they use a different variant of Spanish.

What makes them different?

Spanish variants are different in oral form since pronunciation is one of the most distinguishable traits. If you are familiar with the language, you can tell if someone is from Spain, Mexico or Argentina just by listening to them.

In its written form, however, all Spanish variants adhere to the same standards, but differences can mainly be found in:

  • Vocabulary: words for food, everyday products, and clothes differ the most across territories.
  • Grammar: mostly past tenses and use of second-person pronouns.

Types of Spanish for localization

  • International Spanish: International, or neutral Spanish, is an artificial language created to market products for all Spanish-speaking territories. When writing or translating into international Spanish, highly local, idiomatic and country/region-specific vocabulary, grammar and usage must be avoided. This ensures that the text cannot be linked to any specific Spanish region or country.
  • LatAm Spanish: This variant is addressed to Latin American Spanish speakers. Again, avoid using local and idiomatic vocabulary or grammar (such as voseo in Argentina), and go for more neutral options.

Region-specific Spanish: There are as many region-specific variants as territories where Spanish is spoken. For example, Mexican Spanish, Cuban Spanish, Chilean Spanish, Castilian Spanish, etc. In this case, the translator is free to use any country-specific linguistic feature.

So, which variant do I choose?

Well, as everything in localization, it depends. There are two different scenarios:


  1. If you’re launching your product (let it be an app or a website) in specific markets, why don’t you go with region-specific Spanish? At least for your biggest markets. Your potential clients will feel that you care about them and that’s good for your brand. Also, the service of “adapting” one Spanish variant into another is way more cost-effective than translating from scratch, so it may be affordable for you.
  2. If you’re launching your product for a heterogeneous group of Spanish speakers, for example, Spanish speakers in the US, you might as well go with international Spanish. You want to be respectful of all different nationalities and sensibilities in the US and move away from stereotyping.

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