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break the ice

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, the difference – or lack thereof – between European and Latin American Spanish is a vexed issue. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: there is such a thing as neutral Spanish, just as there is a more-or-less neutral, international English.

At QuickSilver, we are able, when required to, to produce a very neutral Spanish which should be equally acceptable wherever the language is spoken. But this may also mean the result is equally “unacceptable” to all readers (just as British “lift” and US “elevator” won’t satisfy everyone, but may be perfectly acceptable in specific contexts).

Spelling is standard in Spanish (unlike English: “defense/defence”) but different Spanish speaking countries sometimes use different words to refer to the same piece of equipment, say (as in the example we discuss below). In this case, the target market must define which option we use.

Likewise with marketing collateral; if a brochure, for example, is targeted at a specific national market, it is sometimes better to go for a more ‘localised’ idiom which will feel more natural to the reader.

But in neither of these cases are we talking about a ‘different’ language, but rather a selection of cosmetic changes (in the case of marketing collateral, this could be as simple as using the formal ‘you’, usted, instead of the more informal ).

A similar principle applies to the global variants of Portuguese and French, although Portuguese is more problematic than Spanish because the spelling conventions are different. Canadian French is identical to European French in essentials, but sometimes has different vocabulary – ‘sprinkler’, for example, is sprinkleur in France , sprinkler in Belgium but gicleur in Canada. (We have written already about a curious incidence of a pan-continental sprachbund…)

Across these three languages, we find that about 30% of our customers prefer to produce different versions for each country and the rest feel that just one version is enough, a statistic which speaks for itself.

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Here is a recent, ‘real life’ example which illustrates some of the issues involved in translating into Spanish.

The internal reviewer of a client’s Spanish branch asked us to change ‘balance valve’ from ‘válvula de balanceo’ to ‘válvula de equilibrado’. In principle, we agreed, as ‘equilibrado’ is the term generally used in Spain and is arguably more ‘neutral’, in the sense of universally comprehensible.

However, in previous projects, the same client’s Mexican internal reviewer had insisted on ‘balanceo’ instead of ‘equilibrado’, and so that is the term the client had in previously translated documentation. (This illustrates another problem which is, understandably, common in large businesses – inconsistency with regard to terminology.)

If this brochure was intended for all Spanish-speaking markets, then ‘equilibrado’ would have been appropriate, but if it is intended for a more specific audience then it makes sense to stick with ‘balanceo’, which is the term favoured in Mexico and some other Latin American countries. This is a good example of how you cannot satisfy all of your readers at the same time.

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