What to Know About Differences in Spanish Dialects

“Compré poporopos y dulces”
“Compré rositas de maíz y caramelos”

At first glance, it’s probably evident that both sentences are in Spanish; what’s less apparent is that they say the exact same thing: “I bought popcorn and candy.” The difference? The Spanish dialect. The first is from Guatemala, and the second is from Cuba. 

The emotional power of the Spanish language for marketing and messaging is undisputed. However, marketers often treats Hispanics as a homogeneous group. With 52 million Hispanics and seven origin groups with a population of over one million, the “one-size-fits-all” marketing mindset crumbles when examining the stunning variation of Spanish dialects.

The sheer size of the Latin American diaspora has birthed an extraordinary number of Spanish-language dialects. These impact their accents and vocabulary. Effective Spanish–language marketing requires a recognition of the nuances that distinguish the dialects, as well as a strong understanding of the core that unites them.

U.S. Hispanic Regional Distributions

Recent estimates place the number of Spanish speakers of all race / ethnic groups in the US at over 50 million (note: link in Spanish), second only to Mexico. The caveat for marketers trying to tap into this market is understanding that although they share a common language, subtle dialect nuances play a huge role. These differences are most closely tied to the nation of origin, which makes knowing the population and geographic distribution of Hispanics by nation of origin increasingly important.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of the U.S. Hispanic population is Mexican (orange), making it the largest—and arguably the most significant—origin segment to marketers nationwide. States in the Southwest region of the U.S., in particular, stand out: over 88% of Hispanics in Arizona, Texas, and California are of Mexican descent.

However, it’s critical to note that not all Hispanics are Mexican. Although Mexicans dominate most top Hispanic cities, there are several major regional “pockets” that have high concentrations of non-Mexican Hispanics. These include New York (Puerto Rican), Miami (Cuban), and Washington D.C. (Salvadorian).

The Impact of Regional Spanish Dialects

So what does this mean for marketers trying to communicate to Hispanics across the U.S.? Well, on a macro level, it means that a marketing strategy based solely off Mexican insights or with copy delivered by Mexican actors executed in high-Hispanic / non-Mexican regions could possibly alienate your desired audience.

We repeatedly hear in focus groups across the country that U.S. Latino consumers pay attention to the accents and origin of actors in media. This even extends to English accents, which understandably diminish the authenticity of the message.

Considering regional variations in Spanish communications is important to achieve optimal results. Marketing execution that works in Los Angeles may have to be tweaked to fit the demographics of Miami.

What’s more, there are also vocabulary differences to be aware of.

For example, “torta” is used in Venezuelan and Colombian Spanish to mean cake. In Mexican Spanish, however, “torta” means sandwich and “pastel” means cake. It is easy to see how trying to sell a “torta de jamón y queso” to the wrong demographic would lead to confusion. Watch this short video for more examples of differences in Spanish dialect by country of origin.

How To Account for Spanish Regional Dialects?

The nuances and differences between Spanish dialects may seem difficult to overcome, especially to non-native Spanish speakers. Even some Spanish-English dictionaries do not account for the variety of Spanish words. However, you can put your brand in a position to succeed by:

  1. Understanding who you are attempting to reach or the specific demographics of where you are trying reach
  2. Using editors and/or translators familiar with the regional terminology

Spanish is a rich language. It is the official language for 21 countries, each with unique histories, heritages, and customs that shape their lexicons. Appreciating these nuanced differences in regional Spanish dialects is integral to a successful Spanish-language marketing execution.

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