European vs Latin American Spanish

European vs Latin American Spanish

What are the main differences between European vs Latin American Spanish? Spanish is possibly one of the easiest languages to translate for generic subjects. However, it has more problems than translating into German, French or Japanese for technical texts.

This is due to the well-known multiple “varieties” of Spanish. The Spanish spoken in the countries of Central America, South America, the Caribbean and the Iberian Peninsula are significantly different. Most Spanish speakers can understand the various forms, although pronunciation varies. But the key when writing for the Spanish-speaking world is to select the most recognisable term.

For example, to refer to a tank for liquids,

  • Spaniards would prefer “depósito”,
  • others may prefer “tanque”,
  • finally, “recipiente” may be a more generic and acceptable term.

Some more examples

So, the mayor of a city or town is

  • an intendente in Argentina,
  • a presidente municipal in Mexico, and
  • an alcalde in Spain.

A toothpick is

  • a montadientes in Chile,
  • an escarbadientes in Argentina,
  • a picadientes in Mexico and
  • a palillo de dientes in most other countries.

A toilet can be

  • inodoro,
  • taza de baño,
  • retrete,
  • wáter or
  • poceta.

A waiter is

  • a mesonero in Venezuela,
  • a mesero in Colombia and most of South America, and
  • a camarero in Guatemala and Spain.

A ticket can be

  • an entrada,
  • a boleto,
  • a pase or simply
  • a ticket (sometimes spelled tiqué).

A simple writing pen is a

  • bolígrafo,
  • birome,
  • lapicero,
  • puntabola,
  • esfero,
  • pluma and
  • lapiz-tinta.

Similarly, a car is coche in Spain, whereas in the most countries it means “baby stroller”. In Guatemala, on the other hand, it means “pig”.

Avoid social embarrassment!

Also, you have to be careful with certain words. The Spanish words coger (to get or pick up) and concha (seashell) are considered vulgar in some Latin American countries. For example,

  • a Puerto Rican would refer to a bobby pin as a pinche, which is considered an obscenity in Mexico
  • In Spain, pija can refer to a snobbish or posh girl, while in most other countries it is a penis.

It is just like the differences between American and British English. To refer to a “chap”, “dude”, “fellow” or “buddy”, your friend would be

  • güey, mano, cuate or carnal in Mexico
  • your mae in Costa Rica
  • tío or colega in Spain
  • your tipo in Colombia
  • hueón in Chile, and
  • your chabón in Argentina.

Does “neutral” Spanish exist?

It is impossible to translate a text to make every Spanish speaker in the world happy. However, a good translator can communicate in terminology understood by all. The worst thing to do is pretend that these difficulties do not exist.

Furthermore, some people believe in the existence of a universal, “generic” or “neutral” version of Spanish. A version which is understood by everyone. But in reality, especially for technical language, no such Spanish exists.

In conclusion

To summarise, the task of a Spanish translator is to be sensitive to cultural variants on an international and a local scale. The task of a translator (or translation service) is to guide clients through the complicated maze and ensure they are satisfied with the final text.


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