Many Countries, One Language: The Use of Spanish Dialects Around the World

A Message From an Experienced Spanish Translator

Cheerful female academic conducts research online

Being an experienced Spanish translator, my clients are always asking me which version of Spanish to translate into. I get requests to translate into European Spanish, Latin-American Spanish, and, among others, Argentine, Mexican, or Colombian Spanish. These requests assume that there are significant linguistic differences among the respective countries.

Within the variants of Spanish, there are, of course, regional, national, and local differences, which have to do with accents, intonation, connotations of certain terms, verb conjugations, and the like.

For example, in most Spanish countries the fruit persea americana is known as “avocado”; but in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay it is called palta (from the Quechua word Pallta). In Mexico and Central America, it is called aguacate, from the Nahuatl word aguacatl. In most of Spain it is called avocado, but in many parts of Andalusia it is also called aguacate.

Another example is the Spanish word for computer: In Spain, the word is ordenador, while in Latin America it is computadora (female) or computador (male).

There are also varying levels of influence of foreign languages on Spanish, such as Italian, Portuguese, French, and English, based on each country’s specific history or social structure. The spread of the internet, the increase in global trade, and the global exchange of information via mass media ensure that words travel instantly from one country to the other. Words that sometimes may be fashionable in a specific place come and go, and new words appear.

When It Is a Good Idea To Localize Your Spanish Translation

If a company is targeting a very specific audience they may want to consider translating their document into a specific local version of Spanish. If, for example, a company wanted to market their product in Guatemala they would want to translate their text into the Spanish dialect used in Guatemala.

The best way to do this would be to find a translator who was raised and educated in Guatemala. This is particularly helpful with marketing and advertising texts, where it is critical that the message ‘speaks the local language’ and less important in cases where the primary goal is simply to convey information.

The Universality of the Spanish Language

Other clients, however, might request an article translation addressed to a global Spanish-speaking public. Can a translator born in Argentina translate a document into Spanish that a Spanish speaker from Guatemala would understand? Can a Mexican translator translate a document that Chileans and Uruguayans would understand? The answer is yes, they can.

In all Spanish-speaking countries, people learn and use the vocabulary that is established by the Language Academy of each country along with the “Real Academia Española”. All variations of Spanish follow the same grammatical rules, and share the same basic principles. Most of the Spanish vocabulary is shared by the majority of Spanish speakers.

There is also a direct correlation between the level of someone's education and his or her linguistic register: The higher the level of education, the wider the Spanish vocabulary will be, with such education covering all versions of Spanish. If well-educated Mexicans are confronted with a newspaper article written in Buenos Aires or Madrid, they might not recognize the origin of the article, but they will still understand any words that they do not use in their daily lives.

Any translator with a high level of education and the relevant professional qualifications should be able to translate a text into a version of Spanish that all Spanish speakers will understand.

Scientific translations, technical, and academic translations are even less influenced by local, national, and regional specificities connected to everyday language, since Anglo-Saxon terminology is prevalent in scientific and technical language. Issues such as how much foreign terminology should be included in a Spanish translation, as well as details relating to spelling and typesetting, are subject to the editing standards and conventions established by international institutions. The challenge lies in adapting an academic translation to the requirements of these particular style conventions. 


Unless a translation into Spanish is directed to a very specific audience, such a translation should be performed using a vocabulary that every educated Spanish speaker can understand: a “Standard Spanish”. Academic, scientific, and technical translations should therefore not be specific to any given location, and be able to be easily understood by all Spanish speakers.


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