Five key questions British exporters ask about language in Latin America

Small-medium enterprises (SME) will have to tackle the language challenge when planning to export, and experts will tell you that you should not wait long before you address it properly.

Here’s my brief on the matter.

1. Is there such thing as “Latin American Spanish”?

Linguistically speaking, there is no such thing as a “Latin American Spanish” or “speaking latino.” Said phrases are just conventions coined for marketing purposes and aimed at categorising the Spanish-speaking markets. There are considerable variations of Spanish across Latin America, and not many companies can afford to translate for 20 countries.

2. So, how can they ensure that the translation fits all the continent?

It would be impractical, not to mention costly, for small-medium companies to introduce their product or service into the considerable variations of Spanish language across Latin America. So, localisation* is out of the question, unless the company has decided to focus on specific segments and go one country at a time.

For commercial purposes, many Spanish linguists are well aware of a resource known as “castellano/español neutro” or “español internacional.” This “International Spanish” is a standardised version that enables the majority of the Spanish-speaking audience access organisations’ messages, thus reducing costs reasonably.

Here’s another convention that has developed for decades, which resulted from communicational needs of global media. To start off, the “español internacional” is a fine resource small-medium companies should resort to make available their ideas, products or services to their current customers overseas and potential clients as well if they experience budget limitations.

3. Can SMEs reuse literature translated for Spain in Latin America?

If a small-medium company has already landed their products or services in Spain and invested in translating their literature for the Spanish-Spain audience, they can definitely reuse and recycle it in Latin America by “americanizándola.” Americanizar these texts will take the effort to adapt linguistic expressions, grammar usage, cultural concepts and terms, among other aspects, but your Spanish linguist should be able to produce a fine copy apt for the Latin American market.

4. How best to spend a small translation budget?

British SMEs don’t usually have a huge budget for translation. But many native Spanish linguists are independent vendors and offer free consultation, so it should not be a problem to share with them your company’s business plans for attracting global customers from the very moment the idea took shape in your mind. In some cases, accredited professional translators might be willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and, in other cases, such as in Uruguay and Argentina, we are bound to confidentiality (secreto profesional) by laws and bylaws.

5. How do you “translate” British culture for a Latin American audience?

Technical documentation seems more straightforward to translate than, for example, marketing materials that have a lot of cultural or country-specific meaning. When a British SME decides to translate their marketing materials into the Latin American idiosyncrasy, it should resort to adapting the cultural concepts embedded in the original copies, in order to make them appealing for the target audience.

However, this is always a challenge. To translate creatively and faithfully, Spanish linguists should employ a combination of competencies and talents. Full proficiency in both English and Spanish cultural linguistic twists should also be complemented by international marketing and business copywriting skills, so as to align more effectively with the company’s commercial objectives.

*Localisation is making a product linguistically ready for a specific geographic market.

Find these questions and more in The SME Guide to Latin America e-book by Gaby Castro-Fontoura (@uklatinamerica) and jump ahead your competition!

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