When you’re thinking about localizing your online casino content or translating your sportsbook into Spanish, it makes sense to not just target Spain alone but also the whole of Latin America, as we’ve explained in our article about the iGaming markets in Latin America.
This also means that we need to look into the intricacies of the Spanish language since it’s not ‘One For All.’ You want to be careful to not hurt any feelings there. And there are a lot, as you can read below – intricacies and potentially hurt feelings.
But first, here is a quick overview of the 7 major differences between Peninsular and Latin American Spanish:
Overview of the Spanish Language
With more than 480 million people native Spanish speakers worldwide, Spanish is currently ranked as the second most spoken language in the world. It is also estimated that the total number of Spanish speakers with different levels of proficiency (including native speakers, limited domain speakers, and students of Spanish as a foreign language) is more than 577 million in 2018, according to the Instituto Cervantes.
One main reason behind such a high number of Spanish speakers in the world is because it is used as the (or an) official language in more than 20 countries. They are –
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Equatorial Guinea
- Venezuela, and
- Puerto Rico (independent territory)
Mexico, by far, has the largest Spanish speaking population in the world with more than 121 million speakers, followed by Colombia and Argentina with 46 million and 41 million respectively.
The United States, Andorra, Belize, Gibraltar, the Caribbean, Equatorial Guinea, and the Philippines also have large populations of Spanish-speaking residents, although it is not recognized as an official language in those countries.
Different Variations of the Spanish Language
Generally speaking, the Spanish language can be categorized into: European Spanish/Spanish for Spain/Peninsular Spanish (with varieties such as Castilian Spanish, and others.), Spanish spoken in the U.S., and that spoken in Latin America, each having several varieties and sub-varieties of its own.
One important thing to note here is that Peninsular Spanish is not the same as Castilian Spanish as seen on many other blogs. The former refers to the main language used in the Iberian Peninsular, whereas the latter refers to the variety of Peninsular Spanish spoken in northern and central Spain.
However, the terms ‘Castilian Spanish’ or ‘Castellano’ are generously used nowadays to distinguish between the Spanish spoken in Spain and Latin American Spanish, which causes confusion for a lot of non-Spanish speaking peeps.
They might be considered interchangeably since Castilian Spanish or Castellano is the most dominant form, and also the one that every foreign language student learns.
Additionally, Spanish used in Latin America can again be subdivided into major groups such as:
- Mexican Spanish: Mexican Spanish is spoken in Mexico, some parts of the U.S. and Canada. Hence, it is important to know that the areas that use Mexican Spanish do not reflect the geographical territory of Mexico.
- Central American Spanish: Central American Spanish refers to the Spanish language spoken in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
- Caribbean Spanish: Caribbean Spanish is known for its idioms and this variant has a prominent influence of Andalusian and Canarian Spanish. Areas that use Caribbean Spanish are Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Caribbean Colombia and Caribbean Mexico and Gulf Coast Mexico. It is also the most widely-used form of Spanish in Miami and New York.
- Andean-Pacific Spanish: Andean-Pacific Spanish is a dialect spoken mainly in Ecuador, Peru, the central Andes, western Venezuela, southern Colombia, and western Bolivia. It has a strong influence of Castilian, Canarian and Andalusian Spanish, as well as indigenous languages such as Quechua, Aymara.
- Rioplatense Spanish: As the name suggests, Rioplatense Spanish is mainly spoken in Rio de la Plata Basin region which is comprised of northern Argentina, Paraguay, most of Uruguay, and certain parts of Bolivia and Brazil. It is also known as Argentine – Uruguayan Spanish, or River Plate Spanish.
- Chilean Spanish: Chilean Spanish is known to be quite different from other Latin American variants in terms of syntax, pronunciation, and vocabulary. It is also known to be the most challenging Spanish to learn for foreigners.
However, the Spanish language is so diverse that even in those 21 nations mentioned above, each country has its own distinct variation by means of vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, slang, and many more!
This also means that if you want to be very accurate with your content, you will have to localize for each country. Just compare it to the differences between British English, American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, and South-African English.
But why is the Spanish in Latin America different from the Peninsular Spanish?
This can be dated back to the 15th century when Spanish conquistadores colonized the Americas to spread their religion, and along with it, the Spanish dialect that these conquerors used during that era was also spread in the colonized regions.
However, the Spanish languages in Latin America did not evolve in the same way as the Spanish in Spain. Same as with British English and its variants in the US, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. This phenomenon is called the ‘colonial lag,’ a term coined by a linguist called Marckwardt in 1958. It is used to describe a situation where the language spoken in colonized countries changes less than the variety spoken in the mother country.
And the underlying reasons behind the differences between Latin American Spanish and Peninsular Spanish extend far beyond the origin of the Spanish settlers, and when they conquered Latin America.
They also depend on the influence of local languages on different regional Spanish variants, how secluded the areas were (for e.g., the rainforest in Panama acts as a border between Central America and South America, the Andes between Andean-Pacific and Argentina, the Andes between Chile and Argentina), and how strong the political ties were with the Kingdom of Spain.
Additionally, when immigrants from different parts of Europe (like when Italians settled in Argentina in the early 19th century) brought their own linguistic variations, several more local dialects were created over the course of time.
This also leads us to the next section, where we will talk about all the main variations that we can use to distinguish between the Peninsular Spanish and Spanish used in Latin American countries.
Major Differences Between Peninsular and Latin American Spanish
The second-person pronoun is perhaps the most well-known grammatical difference between Latin American Spanish and Peninsular Spanish.
In Spanish, there are literally five different ways to address the English pronoun ‘you,’ and each has its own varying degree of formality. Yes, five…and what may sound friendly in Spain may sound very formal in some places in Latin America and vice versa.
Let’s have a closer look at them:
- Three Singular forms – Tú, Vos, Usted
- Two Plural forms (when addressing two or more people) – Vosotros, Ustedes
1. Singular Second-Person Pronouns: To Tú or Not to Tú?
Well, the answer depends on which country you are targeting your content with. To help you understand better, do have a look at this table first before we talk more about each pronoun.
- Tú: In Spain and most parts of Latin America, ‘tú’ is generally considered as a casual way of addressing families and friends. However, in some countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic, ‘tú’ is used in formal situations instead of ‘usted,’ and such kind of usage is known as ‘tuteo.’
- Vos: ‘Vos’ (familiar) is an alternative pronoun for ‘tú,’ and it is primarily used in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, as well as, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and sometimes Costa Rica. Such use of ‘vos’ rather than ‘tú’ is called ‘voseo.’ It is also a classic example of the colonial lag as it is no longer used in Spain but still seen in Rioplatense Spanish.
- Usted: ‘Usted’ is used in formal occasions by Spaniards and most Latin American Spanish speakers. However, Colombians from Bogotá are well-known for using ‘usted’ in informal conversations between families and friends (where ‘tú’ and ‘vos’ are usually used in other dialects).
2. Plural Second-Person Pronouns: Vosotros vs. Ustedes
In Spain Spanish/Standard European Spanish, both ‘tú’ and ‘usted’ have their own forms of the second-person plural, i.e., ‘vosotros’ and ‘ustedes’ respectively. ‘Vosotros’ is mainly used in casual conversations, whereas ‘ustedes’ is only used in formal situations, just like how their singular forms are used.
For Latin America, ONLY ‘ustedes’ is used as the plural form for both ‘tú’ and ‘usted.’ So, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking to your parents, best friends, or addressing your customers, it will all be the same. Most people in Latin America would look at you funnily if you used ‘vosotros’ there – either out of laughter, slight disgust or from never having heard the word before.
Interesting side note: When you’re starting to learn Spanish with Duolingo, you will learn Latin American Spanish, and therefore not learn ‘vosotros’ but ‘ustedes’ instead.
3. Second-Person Verb Forms
With each second-person pronoun, the verb form changes accordingly too. The formal ‘usted’ and ‘ustedes’ pronouns are always paired with the third-person singular and plural verb forms respectively, even though they are semantically second-person pronouns. That is because these pronouns are derived from the third-person expressions ‘vuestra merced’ and ‘vuestras mercedes.’
In the case of second-person singular ‘vos,’ the verb form can be derived from its plural counterpart ‘vosotros’ by deleting the semivowel at the ending. E.g., ‘vosotros habláis’ and ‘vos hablás,’ which means ‘you speak’ in English.
4. Verb Tense
When it comes to verb usage, you will probably hear Spaniards using perfect tense to describe actions finished in the past, whereas in Latin America, the simple past tense is the more preferred grammatical tense. For instance, in Spain Spanish, it is “Me he quedado en casa hoy” (I stayed home today), but for Latin American Spanish, it’d be “Me quedé en casa hoy.”
When talking about different Spanish pronunciations, it is important to understand these three linguistic terms: distinción, seseo, and ceceo.
- Ceceo: In some parts of southern Spain, ‘c’ (if it appears before ‘i’ and ‘e’), ‘s’ and ‘z’ (regardless of their positions) are pronounced as a ‘th’ sound, and the term to describe it is called ceceo.
- Distinción: Distinción is a dialect where ‘c’ and ‘z’ are pronounced as ‘th’ – but ‘s’ as an English ‘s’. Many Spaniards tend to talk this way.
- Seseo: Seseo is when you pronounce all those alphabets like an English letter ‘s’ and this dialect is used in all of Latin America and some parts of Andalucia and Canary Islands.
To give you an easy example, the word ‘Barcelona’ would be pronounced as Bar-fe-lona in some parts of Spain, but in Latin America, it’d be just Bar-se-lona, like how English speakers usually pronounce it.
Another good example here is ‘gracias’. But this time, can you guess how it would be pronounced following the rules of ceceo, seseo, and distinción?
6. Numerical Formats
One more important thing that we cannot ignore when localizing (especially in the iGaming industry where we are constantly dealing with prize amount, date, time, and currency formats) is the numerical and punctuation format.
As you can see in the table below, different regions have their own use of numerical separators (i.e., comma and dot). In fact, these two groups of countries use numerical separators in the opposite way.
Such minor details might seem unimportant to some, but sometimes, it is that attention to details that make you stand out from the rest of the pack.
7. Vocabulary Differences
In Spanish, vocabulary differences are way more complicated than Chips vs. French Fries vs. Crisp case. To start with, here are a few commonly used words in Spain Spanish vs. Latin American Spanish.
- Mobile Phone: Móvil/ Celular
- Computer: ordenador/ computadora
- Car: Coche/Automovil, Carro
- Juice: Zumo (pronounced as thu-mo, because of distinción)/Jugo
- Potato: Patata/Papa
We can keep adding more words to this non-exhausting list, but we wouldn’t be done today…or even tomorrow. So instead, we will let this video guide you into the spiraling maze of Spanish vocabulary. Enjoy!
🎼’…Oh how hard it is to understand Spanish,
If you learn it, stay only in one region…’🎼
This can’t be any truer! If you’ve watched the music video, you’ll now know that Spanish words can be confusing even for Spanish speakers. That’s because everyone is using the same words but with totally different meanings!
So, if you are targeting Spanish speakers in Latin America, it is important to localize for different countries instead of treating them as one generic pool of locales.
Special Intricacies per Region
And since this wasn’t complicated enough, all regions have their own usages of different words and grammar. And within their countries they have different usages of words like ‘tú’ and ‘vos’ as well – sometimes depending on the influx of Spanish immigrants from Spain, or Italy in Argentina.
In the tú/vos battle, people from Argentina and other Rioplatense regions use ‘vos’ for the second person singular pronoun instead of the usual ‘tú.’ This also means that the way the singular second-person verbs are used and pronounced also changes accordingly.
- tienes → tenés
- quieres → querés
- puedes → podés
- eres → sos
Other than their vos usage, people in these regions tend to pronounce both LL and Y as ‘zhh’ or ‘shh.’ So, for the word ‘llamo,’ Argentines would pronounce it as ‘shamo’ and ‘tuyo’ as ‘tusho.’So that’s a fun way to guess if a person is from the Rioplatense region or not.
If you want to blend in with the locals, try using the word ‘che’ (hey) at the beginning or end of a sentence when you are talking to your friends. They will be impressed!
For those who want to step up their Rioplatense Spanish skill, you should definitely master their most popular Argentinian slang words and here are a few good ones to start with:
- ¿Qué hacés?/¿Qué contás?: Instead of the usual greeting “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?), Argentines would greet each other with “¿Qué hacés?” or “¿Qué contás?” which is more like “What’s up?” in English. So, try this greeting phrase next time you meet a local friend.
- Fresca: This is a slang for ‘beer’ which also means ‘fresh’ or ‘cool’. Another word for ‘beer’ is ‘birra’ which is a direct loan word from the Italian language.
- Cheto: It is often used to describe a rich or snobbish person, but this can also refer to a place.
- Laburo: ‘Laburo’ is derived from the Italian word ‘lavoro’, which means work.
- Boliche: It means ‘nightclub’ in Argentina and Uruguay, but it also means ‘bowling alley’ in other countries.
- Mango: Yes, it is a fruit in English, but Argentines use it as a slang for the Argentine currency, the ‘peso’.
Chilean Spanish-speakers are famous for speaking very fast that even native Spanish speakers have a hard time catching the words when they speak. Some Chileans might even claim that they have the fastest Spanish accent among the rest. And there are a few good reasons to why they sound so fast.
First of all, Chileans like to omit the ‘s’ sound at the end of a word when it follows a vowel. For example, “Vamos a comer las hamburguesas,” which means “Let’s eat the burgers” in English will sound more like “Vamo’ a comer la’ hamburguesa’” in Chilean Spanish.
They also cut out the ‘d’ sound when it is next to vowels, and that includes ‘-do/ -da’ endings. So, Chileans will pronounce words like ‘supermercado’ and ‘pescado’ as ‘supermerca’o’ and ‘pesca’o.’
When it comes to referring to a person, Chileans use ‘vos’ when they talk to friends or people that they don’t respect. It is a very informal way of speech that almost every Chilean uses, especially in the central region.
However, they have their own rules for Voseo, which are a little bit different from the ones that Argentinians use. For example, in Argentina, they say “Vos como te llamás,” whereas Chileans say “Vos como te llamais.”
At the same time, the tú verb conjugation in Chile is somewhat different from that of the standard Spanish. The tú verbs that end in ‘-ar’ are replaced with ‘-ai,’ and for those ending with ‘-er/ir,’ they just use ‘-i’ ending.
When you are in Chile, you might also hear locals saying ‘si po’ or ‘no po’ a lot in their daily conversations as one of the many Chilean slang phrases. ‘Po’ is a common add-on word which is derived from the word ‘pues,’ meaning ‘well’ or ‘so’ in English. So, go ahead and practice it. It is a nice trick to learn beforehand if you are planning to travel to Chile.
Colombia has a very diverse range of Spanish dialects, and the term ‘Colombian Spanish’ is usually used to refer to the dialect spoken in Bogotá. It is also widely considered to sound the most educated with very clear pronunciation. Paisa dialect is also another well-known Spanish dialect used in Colombia.
Colombians love to use ‘pues’ in their conversations, just like how Chileans use ‘po’ whenever they speak. So, let’s take a look at some common Colombian slang phrases that you might come across in Colombia:
- Hagale pues – sure, ok, go for it
- Bueno pues – alright then
- Pues mira… – Well, look…
Another unique feature of Colombian Spanish is the use of usted when talking to friends and families (when it is usually tu or vos in most other Spanish variants). Some of you might find it being too formal or polite to be addressed by ‘usted,’ but it is very common usage in Bogotá.
However, if you go to Medellin, you will hear people using ‘vos’ all the time. So… if you are getting lost in this tú/vos/usted maze, just listen to what locals call you and go with the flow. You can’t really go wrong with this trick.
Most Colombians are also non-yeísmo speakers, which means that they make a hard ‘je’ sound when pronouncing LL and a soft ‘ye’ sound when pronouncing Y.
Mexico holds the reputation of having the highest number of Spanish speakers in the world. There are about 10 varieties of Mexican Spanish and the one that foreigners (people outside of Mexico) are most familiar with is that of central Mexico.
And Mexican Spanish speakers use ‘tú’ to address their friends and families informally, which is the most used form of second-person pronoun in Spain and most of Latin America.
Moreover, people there love adding suffixes like ‘-ito’ and ‘-ita’ to the ending of words to make them sound more affectionate. For example, you can add ‘-ito’ to ‘Gato’ (Cat), and it becomes ‘Gatito’ which means ‘a small cat/kitten’ in English. Isn’t that cute?
Summing It All Up
Now that we have mentioned some of the most well-known differences between Peninsular Spanish and the variants in Latin America, we hope that you understand the importance of such variations, and start paying attention to such details.
If you are traveling across Latin America, you can get away with just a few nods and smiles, or perhaps with some awkward stares when you mention wrong Spanish words. But, if you are in the marketing world, you’ll have to be specific with your word choices, and of course, the grammatical usage depending on the market you are targeting.
There are also some underlying political reasons why you should localize your content into specific Spanish variants. Although it is not very outspoken, some Latinos have a deep underlying repugnance against the Spanish from Spain, as they once were their colonial masters/oppressors. It is a bit like how some people in the U.S. are not very fond of the “Old Europe”. Therefore, it’s vital to not target them with Spanish from Spain.
Even among Latin Americans, Chileans don’t like the Argentine Spanish and think that Peruvian Spanish is the most correct and much better. Due to such underlying conflicts, it is crucial that you take account of the culture and history of the target market when localizing your content.
However, choosing the countries and languages to target for your next marketing move depends solely on the industry you are working in and your business goals. If you are in the iGaming industry, we recommend you check out our article ‘Online Gambling Localization in Latin America: A General Overview‘ to understand more about the biggest iGaming markets in Latin America.
And if you are planning to localize for each country precisely, we recommend that you hire professional localization/translation experts who speak the target language as their mother tongue and understand the culture of that country inside out.
Or as one of our U.S. English writers reported:
“A friend of mine who studied Spanish in Mexico said that the convention there was to use usted for anybody older or in a higher position and tú for everyone else so she got used to this. Then she spoke to her Venezuelan in-laws for the first time on the phone and they were a little off-put by her formality.”
Ask yourself: Do you want to be the iGaming company all your customers are put off from?
How did you like May Thawdar Oo’s blog post “7 Things to Know Before Localizing in Latin American Spanish”? Let us know in the comments if you have anything to add, have another content idea for iGaming blog posts, or just want to say “hello.” 🙂