european spanish

Latin American Spanish vs. European Spanish

From spellings to accents, there are notable differences between English in America and English in Britain. Similarly, Spanish differs from Latin America to Europe. Because the distinctions are not monumental, both regions can still easily communicate with one another. However, the differences are important to understand, especially within the translation industry where it’s critical for accurate localization to reflect the target region.

Let’s take a look at how European, specifically Spain, known as Castilian Spanish is different from Latin American Spanish.

Vocabulary

While there are vocabulary variances across Spanish speaking countries around the globe, there are distinct differences between the vocabulary of Latin America and Spain. One example of this is mobile phone. In Spain, cell phone is translated móvil while in Latin America mobile is celular. Another example is coche in Spain versus carro or auto in Latin America. A commonly used word that diverges is computer which is ordenador in Spain and computadora in Latin America.

Tú/Usted/Vos

The forms of addressing a person vary between regions. In Spain, to address one person as you, the Spaniard would use for informal use or usted for formal situations. This rule is shared throughout most of Latin America. However, where it differs is in Argentina and Uruguay where vos is used for informal situations. This illustrates that variants exist across Latin America itself and that there is not necessarily a standardized Latin American Spanish.

The pronoun and vos could be used interchangeably, but there are other changes associated with this as well such as verb conjugations.

For example:
You must study.
Vos tenés que estudiar.
Tú tienes que estudiar.

Vosotros vs. Ustedes

The use of the third person plural pronoun is another difference between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish. In Spain the word commonly used is vosotros and in Latin America you will often hear ustedes. Vosotros is never used in Latin America. Spaniards recognize ustedes but it’s considered extremely formal.

The differences are illustrated not only in the personal pronoun but also in the possessive pronoun.

For example:
You know how important it is to study another language.
Vosotros sabéis lo importante que es estudiar otro idioma.
Ustedes saben lo importante que es estudiar otro idioma.

How many of your friends study another language?
¿Cuántos de vuestros amigos estudian otro idioma?
¿Cuántos de sus amigos estudian otro idioma?

Leísmo

Throughout Spain, an acceptable practice known as leísmo is recognized. This refers to the use of the indirect object pronoun le instead of the correct direct object pronoun lo or la. This is only grammatically recognized when referring to male persons. Leísmo is not applied when referring to a female or using plural forms.

For example:
I did not see Santiago yesterday.
A Santiago no le vi ayer. Here leísmo is used as the indirect object pronoun.
A Santiago no lo vi ayer. Here standard Spanish is applied and the direct object pronoun is used.

Pronunciation of Z and C

One of the most obvious incongruencies is in the way Spaniards pronounce specific letters compared to Latin Americans. For example, in Spain the letter Z has the pronunciation similar to the English sound of TH, almost sounding like a lisp. Similarly, the letter C before I and E, also has the sound of TH. In Latin American countries, Z and C before I and E always have the sound of an S. For example, zapato in Spain is pronounced TH-apato. In Latin America, zapato is pronounced S-apato. Spaniards pronounce cinco as TH-inco and Latin Americans say S-inco. Not using the TH pronunciation is described linguistically as seseo. In addition to pronunciation differences, some Latin American countries will often drop the s when it’s at the end of words entirely.

Ultimately, especially for the translation and localization industry, it’s highly essential to be aware of these key differences. By understanding and properly addressing the language nuances of the target market, the translations will be more impactful and better resonate with audiences. Failure to properly localize to the appropriate Spanish region will create a disconnect and even cause an unnecessary distraction away from the translated content.

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