Spanish is the most translated language in the US. While Spanish is one of the easier languages to learn, technical texts are often considered difficult to translate into Spanish. One of the main reasons given is that there is no single variety of Spanish. There are, in fact, major differences between the Spanish of Spain and, say, South America.
But what are pharmaceutical and medical device companies to do? Do you need to provide multiple Spanish translations if you wish to market services to the general Hispanic population in the US or to sell your products to Spanish speakers in both South America and Spain? The experts will tell you that you must write specifically in the Spanish of your target audience. In other words, only Mexican Spanish will do for Mexicans.
The experts are wrong.
SECOND MOST SPOKEN LANGUAGE IN THE WORLD
First, a bit of background. Spanish and English are neck-and-neck for the title of third most spoken language in the world. As of 2005, each had more than 300 million native speakers. Both are behind Hindi (around 360 million speakers) and far, far behind Chinese with around 1 billion million speakers (source: Wikipedia).
But which Spanish are they talking about? As with other widely spoken languages, regional and local usage develops over the course of time, resulting in a veritable Tower of Babel of Spanish.
In the U.S., more than one-in-five residents of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas speak Spanish at home. The Hispanic population in and around Miami tends to be of Latin American or Caribbean ancestry. In contrast, the Spanish-speaking population in Dallas is predominantly of Mexican origin.
This kind of regionalism (some worriers would say balkanization) makes it difficult to target each group of Spanish speakers in "their" dialect. In Miami, if you want to reach Cuban-Americans, how do you avoid that this text also reaches (and potentially offends) people of Central American origin?
NOT THE ONLY LANGUAGE WITH MULTIPLE DIALECTS
The debate over Spanish dialects is easy to understand when compared to the differences in UK English and US English. Most of us find the small differences in meaning and pronunciation charming. But as with Spanish dialects, there are also some substantial differences in usage and vocabulary of the English language. (For a look at some of the difference, refer to the American-British / British-American dictionaries at TravelFurther.net.)
Despite these differences, we can communicate quite effectively across the big pond. Most Americans quickly adjust when they hear a Brit describe an activity of a "fortnight" ago. More importantly, Americans interpret uncustomary phrases and expressions in the context given.
CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT
In fact, it all comes down to context. It is generally taken for granted that in any language, medical texts use terminology that is quite different from, say, financial texts. Likewise, a guide for janitorial staff uses a style, layout, and terminology that might differ from one for nuclear engineers. We expect readers to have a certain level of familiarity with the topic discussed. The more expertise we assume on the part of the reader, the more specialized the language will become.
For these difficult linguistic situations, the role of the Spanish translator is twofold. The translator must have both expertise in the subject being written about, and knowledge of the document's intended audience. With those two pieces of information, the skilled translator can indeed author a Spanish text that is clear and unambiguous to an educated reader from any Spanish-speaking country.
Companies that use a universal Spanish do so for practical reasons. It is often not possible to produce multiple Spanish versions of the same document and at the same time, reduce time to market and live within ever-shrinking budgets.
The following five guidelines will help you decide to produce universal Spanish or market-specific materials:
1. Distinguish between marketing communication and technical documentation
To save time and money, technical documentation should be written in a universal Spanish. Marketing documents, on the other hand, should be localized for a specific market. Ads, commercials, brochures, and collateral pieces must be copy-edited by local talent.
2. Accept linguistic differences
There will always be people who point out that certain words are slang terms in a country. While these instances should be investigated to avoid any offense to your local users, most of these claims are as bogus as the old fable that the Chevy Nova failed in South America because "no va" literally means "doesn't go" in Spanish.
3. Speak to your audience
As noted above, translators need to know who will read the Spanish documents. This way, linguists are able to match the words they use to the abilities of the end-user. Don't use technical jargon when lay persons will read the document.
4. Don't get too caught up in the details
Proponents of country-specific Spanish documentation often cite differing conventions for depicting times, numbers, and the like. For example, while a Mexican might write a check for $3,290.67, a Spaniard would write the same amount as $3.290,67. Insisting on a separate manual to account for differences like this example is rather like missing the forest for the trees. While a notation might be unconventional, it surely would not result in any confusion.
5. Inform users of your approach
Some companies, like Microsoft, preface Spanish manuals with a note that explains to the user that the document was written in universal Spanish that all of their customers could understand. This heads off criticism at the pass and alerts readers to the possibility for uncustomary terms.
Not everybody will be convinced that a universal Spanish is feasible or appropriate. However, translators need to adapt to the business realities of their customers. It is no longer feasible, or necessary, to write specifically in the Spanish of your Spanish target audience.
Instead, provide context and let them read universal Spanish!
Why do leading medical device and pharmaceutical companies entrust their Spanish medical translations to ForeignExchange Translations? Our process allows for known translation quality in the shortest amount of time. Ask us how!
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