Spain vs. Latin America: Characteristics and Peculiarities when Translating into Spanish

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Spanish Translations

Someone from Spain can easily chat with someone from Latin America, but the continental differences quickly become evident. However, if our purpose is to translate content into Spanish it is vital to know the target region, because differences may be greater than we think.

What do we need to consider when translating into Spanish for different audiences? What are the main differences between Spanish from Spain and the Spanish from Latin America?

Spanish has always been a very influential language. Currently, 489 million people speak Spanish as their native language, according to the last report from Instituto Cervantes. It is the second most-spoken native language globally, only after Mandarin Chinese. Today, 20 countries use Spanish as their official language: 18 of these are in Latin America, one of them is in Africa (Equatorial Guinea) and one is in Europe: the Motherland of Spanish, Spain.

Spanish speakers have increased 30% in the last decade and the number of people studying Spanish as a second language has grown 60%.

Source: Instituto Cervantes

Tú vs Vos

The pronoun vos instead of is very common in some regions of Latin America, such as Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay and some Central American cities. Its use is mostly informal, in the 2nd person singular. However, vos is not used in Spain.

When translating into Spanish, we need to be aware of the use of vos vs . This difference in use also impacts some tenses and is mainly used in the indicative and imperative moods of the present tense. Note, for example, the differences between ¿Querés salir a comer? (vos) and ¿Quieres salir a comer? (tú) Or between, haceme un favor (vos), and hazme un favor (tú).


The word vos is also confusing in another way: the plural form of vos is not vosotros, but ustedes. In Spain, using usted is a marker of formal communication, while vosotros is used colloquially. The use of vosotros is very rare in Latin America.

While in Spain we would ask: vosotros, ¿tenéis ganas de comer?, in Latin America, we would ask: ustedes, ¿tienen ganas de comer?

This chart shows a list of pronouns for clarity:

  Informal Informal Formal Formal
  Singular Plural Singular Plural
Spain vosotros usted ustedes
Latin America tú or vos ustedes usted ustedes

Although Spain is the country of origin of the language, it comes fourth in the amount of native Spanish speakers, after Mexico, Colombia and Argentina.

Source: Ep Data / Instituto Cervantes

Lexical Differences

There are also lexical and vocabulary differences between Spain and Latin America, and we need to be aware of them so that translations can be relevant for the largest audience possible. Even in America, differences abound. These are some examples:

Latin America Spain
Papas Patatas
Computadora/Computador Ordenador
Anteojos/Lentes Gafas
Jugo Zumo
Tomar/Agarrar Coger
Secundaria/Preparatoria Instituto
Bañera/Bañadera Tina
Heladera/Refrigerador Nevera
Choclo/Elote Maíz
Enojarse Enfadarse


When translating a diminutive, we also need to consider the target audience, because its suffix may change. This is another example of regional differences:

Diminutive Suffix Region Examples
-illo /
(Andalucía), Central America
/ Amiguilla
-ito /
/ Cosita
-ico /
Spain / Caribbean / Central America
/ Hermanica

Phonetic Differences

If the source material includes audio or video, we need to consider the significant phonetic differences between regions, such as:

  • Yeísmo: This is a phonetic change that is very common in the Río de la Plata area, in countries such as Argentina and Uruguay. It consists of pronouncing the letter y with a sh sound (as in Sharon). This change does not impact written text. For example: The words cayó and calló are both pronounced with the sh sound in the Rio de la Plata region. Both sounds [ll] and [y] are pronounced the same. In Spain, Mexico and Central America, the distinction between these two sounds remains.
  • Seseo: It is very frequent in Latin America, but rare in Spain. It consists of pronouncing the consonants c and z with an /s/ sound (as in sermon), instead of using the /θ/ sound (the th in think). For example: In Latin America, the word taza is pronounced as /’tasa/, while in Spain, it would be pronounced as /’taθa/.
  • Ceceo: It is the opposite phenomenon and it is widespread in Spain, but rare in Latin America. For example, the first s in the word suspiro is pronounced as /s/ in Latin America, but as /θ/ in Spain.

How can we avoid mistakes?

Although Spanish is technically one single language, there are evident regional differences. If a translation fails to account for the differences in each country or region, as well as in usage, it can drastically impact content.

If we seek effective communication, fidelity to the source is not only based on a good translation: the target audience needs to find it relevant, familiar and natural.

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