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What type of Spanish do you speak?




Brigitta S. Toruño
UNO Translations and Communications, LLC


Many people think that there is only one type of Spanish, but in reality, there are many dialects. There is the Spanish that is spoken in Spain, which is different from the Spanish that is spoken in Argentina, which is different from the Spanish that is spoken in Ecuador, and on and on. The differences can be compared to English spoken in the United States, which is different than the English spoken in the United Kingdom, which is different that the English spoken in text messages!


I’ll give you some examples of the confusion that dialects can cause. My mother was from Ecuador and my father from Argentina. When they first met, although they spoke the same language, their word choices were different, and that made it difficult for them to understand each other sometimes. One day my father said to my mother “Esta noche te voy a llevar a un boliche.” My mother liked to bowl, and dressed appropriately for bowling… much to her surprise, my father meant a nightclub! Another time he said “Vamos a ir a comer pasta” which to my mother meant “We’re going to a place to have pastry”, but again she was surprised when they went to an Italian restaurant!


Sometimes the difference in dialects make for laughs, but other times these differences can be life threatening. Some of the most common – and most dangerous translation mishaps occur in hospital emergency rooms across the country. According to Mary Esther Diaz, a translator, interpreter-trainer and co-founder of the Austin (Texas) Area Translators and Interpreters Association, “There is the infamous story in Florida in which a Spanish speaker had a medical problem and called an ambulance,” she related. The paramedics assessed the patient while an untrained interpreter assisted. “The patient was describing what was going on and used the word intoxicado. The patient meant he felt dizzy, but the translator used the word ‘intoxicated.’ The ER staff did not check further and treated the man as a drunken person and didn’t realize he was having a cerebral hemorrhage. He’s now a quadriplegic and he sued the hospital (and won) for $72 million.”


As you can see, there are many consequences to not using the correct Spanish terminology, or using “Spanglish”.


So how do you avoid using “incorrect” Spanish?














1. For starters, don’t ask an employee to translate your company’s documents, if they are not a professional translator. Would you ask the accountant in your company to write the marketing materials? It’s a liability for you.


2. Get the right translation company to do the best quality translation you can afford. In the long run, it won’t just save you money; it could save your reputation. It’s smart to want to save your company money and find creative ways to solve problems – but translation services are not an area where you want to skimp.


3. There is such a thing as “universal” Spanish. If you’re writing to a Spanish-speaking population in the U.S., this is the way to go. A translation company will advise you about the Spanish to use, depending on where the materials will be used.


What country are you from originally? Have you found times that it’s been difficult to understand other Spanish-speaking people? Tell us your stories!


This article is the English version of a Spanish article I wrote in Chris Brogan’s OWNER magazine. You can find the original article here.

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