Does your business speak diversity?
As you might suspect, “English is the most influential language of academia and the business world, occupying the top in the field of languages, and spoken by over three-quarters of the world’s population.” And “Believe it or not, the United States has recently been cited as the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, where an estimated 37.6 million people speak it as their first language.”
Overall, “572 million people speak Spanish worldwide, of which 477 million people are native speakers, according to a new report from the Spanish government’s Cervantes Institute.”
The only language which has more native speakers is Mandarin. But Spanish is also one of the most widespread languages in the world. This means it’s one of the top languages to learn for international business. Meanwhile, the U.S. Hispanic population is projected to double by 2050 making Spanish an essential language and earnings opportunity when conducting business in the U.S.
A Spanish language business strategy is a smart move
In fact, developing a Spanish language business strategy is a smart move that’s used by brands across the globe. The more widespread a language becomes, the more useful it is for trade. Make no mistake, Spanish is spoken everywhere!
“the U.S. Hispanic population is projected to double by 2050…”
Spanish is not only spoken in Spain and other parts of Europe but also across vast swathes of Latin America and among Spanish-speaking residents of the United States. Being able to communicate in Spanish with confidence and style can open up large new markets.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how to develop a Spanish language strategy for your business.
- Where is Spanish spoken?
- Remember the variants and dialects of Spanish
- The U.S. Hispanic market: A brief look
- Doing business in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities
- How to enter the Spanish market: Doing business in Spain
- Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish:What’s the difference?
- Your Spanish language business strategy: Don’t generalize
Where is Spanish spoken?
You’ll find plenty of Spanish speakers in places where you might not necessarily expect. There are huge markets in Spain itself, of course, where Spanish is spoken by an est. 90% of the 47 million-strong population. But there are also Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Chile which are showing huge growth – among massive populations.
Not to mention, countries where Spanish is an official language (e.g., Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Uruguay, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador, etc.) or other parts of the world with significant Spanish-speaking populations.
The United States is actually the second largest Spanish-speaking country on the planet with 52 million native speakers – more than Spain itself, if only due to relative size! The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Switzerland also have sizeable Spanish-speaking populations.
Spanish is also one of the official languages of:
- The United Nations
- The European Union
- The Organization of American States
- The Union of South American Nations
It’s no wonder why Spanish is lauded as one of the best languages to learn for business in 2019, and beyond.
Remember the variants and dialects of Spanish
It’s important to remember when developing a Spanish-based language strategy that there are different varieties and dialects spoken around the world. The biggest split is probably between Peninsular Spanish (European Spanish, of which there are perhaps six main varieties) and the Spanish of the Americas (of which there are perhaps five). But there are many dialects – Mexico alone has over one hundred!
This means it’s essential to consult a native in the Spanish-speaking market you’re targeting. No one else will have the same local market understanding of unique cultural norms and touchstones of your particular target audience. Another Spanish-speaking market could well be on a different continent, after all.
The U.S. Hispanic market: A brief look
The language diversity throughout the U.S. is tremendous. A good example of this is the Hispanic market in the US. It’s worthy of some thought and study. There are a few things which set the U.S. Spanish-speaking market apart from others – even many Spanish-speaking ones.
- Greater internet usage and digital awareness – Broadly speaking, data shows the average member of the U.S. Hispanic population spends around two hours more on the internet every week than most other demographic groups. They’re also, on average, more likely to use their mobile devices for a greater number of tasks – including subscriptions to TV streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. That’s in addition to an above-average incidence of regular social media use, particularly Instagram and Facebook. This makes internet-based and social media advertising effective when targeting the U.S. Hispanic community.
- Strong communities and brand loyalty – There seems to be a decent amount of data which shows U.S. Hispanic consumers, especially millennials, use branded hashtags and stay loyal to brands they like. This further reinforces the significance of smart social media marketing when targeting this segment of the population. One of the brand values which tends to be prioritized by Latin American consumers is inclusivity. Family values, friends and the local community all tend to be important factors for this group in general.
- Overall Hispanic-targeted ad spend is low – Given the size of the U.S. Hispanic population, the combined advertising spend to reach them is relatively low. It is starting to rise, but there’s still a lot of room for intelligent marketing – especially in online and social media spaces – across industries.
Doing business in Latin America: Challenges and opportunities
A dramatically different group of Spanish audiences can be found in Latin America. Latin America technically consists of around 20 or more countries. It starts at the northern border of Mexico and stops at the southern tip of Argentina and Chile. It’s also often said to take in much of the Caribbean on the way. It’s roughly defined as those parts of the Americas where Romance (Latin-based) languages are mainly spoken. As such, it represents a truly massive area – 13% of the world’s total landmass.
Sixty percent of Latin America’s 640+ million population is Spanish-speaking. There are many challenges when doing business in Latin America if you don’t have local knowledge. But there also many opportunities:
- A growing middle class on the rise – Particularly in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico, projections show the standard of living is on the rise. People might start having a bit more money in their pockets in the not too distant future.
- Online sales are increasing – E-commerce is becoming more prevalent in Latin America. There are still plenty of areas with little to no competition or an outright void (and Amazon isn’t around to fill it).
- Less marketing competition – Many local Latin American companies do not use the Internet or social media to their fullest extent as it pertains to marketing strategies. This leaves the market open for new players.
When entering a new market, identifying a local partner will always make things easier for you. If you are conducting business in Latin America, specifically, understanding the enormous differences in culture between Latin America and the rest of the world, and even sometimes between neighboring countries – will be critical to your success.
How to enter the Spanish market: Doing business in Spain
Spain is distinctively unique. As the home of the Spanish language, it is often thought of as one of the gateways to the world in terms of business and commerce. The country regularly hosts global trade shows in many industries, including:
- FITUR – An international tourism industry trade show
- Mobile World Congress – The world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry
- Alimentaria – An international trade show for professional in the food, drinks and gastronomy industry
Spain can also be a fantastic gateway to Latin America. The country retains strong relationships with most of its former colonies. British businesspeople, in particular, will find this kind of Spanish Commonwealth a familiar idea.
Doing business in Spain means, of course, means adapting to Spanish business culture. Some general observations include:
- Networking – Networking is as vital in Spain as anywhere else in the world. Positivity is to be strived for, and humor is often encouraged in business settings. A good networking opportunity is often presented with an invitation to dinner, coffee or tapas. However, eating out is generally a social activity in Spain though, so don’t press your business point.
- Greetings – The standard handshake is appropriate in all business settings. Addressing someone by their title is considered polite. Meanwhile, “Kissing each other on both cheeks is only done between people who know each other. Spaniards are initially quite formal in business settings.”
- Conversation topics – Leave it to your Spanish partners (or host) to decide when it’s polite to ask personal questions. Obviously, asking questions on certain subjects – such as Basque or Catalan independence or some parts of Spanish history – is to be avoided.
- Personal pride – Generally speaking, Spanish culture does hold to the idea of personal pride and honor. This does not mean to say you should boast about your achievements. Quiet dignity can also display pride.
- Business dress code – In Spanish business attire etiquette, your status is often judged by the way you dress. Being stylish is a good thing. Yet don’t overlook the conservatism – an occasional highlight of Spanish culture. “Spaniards usually spend a fair amount of time and money on their outfit and appearance. Business dress is classic, professional and conventional.”
- Presentations and business cards – If you’re giving a presentation, handing out a printed version in accurately-localized Spanish will likely be appreciated despite the high level of English proficiency which exists in most Spanish business circles. It’s also a good idea to have your business cards printed in Spanish on one side and English on the other. Presenting them with the Spanish side up is polite.
- Siesta – The siesta is certainly still a large presence in Spanish life. Siesta can start as early as 1:30 pm and finish as late as 5:00 pm for the traditional afternoon nap, depending on the time of year or the region. These days, however, not all businesses close for the afternoon. “While it’s mostly family businesses that still keep to the custom,… even in Madrid, the habit is jealously guarded,” according to Traveller magazine. Culture Trip notes: “While much of Spain has all but dropped the siesta, there are some places that are proudly preserving the tradition.”
- Gift-giving – Giving a gift is not an everyday occurrence in the Spanish business culture. When a big deal is concluded, a well-wrapped gift of excellent quality might be an option. If your Spanish partner gets you a gift, be sure to open it when they present it to you.
Latin American Spanish vs. Spain Spanish: What’s the difference?
The Spanish spoken in Latin America is derived from the Andalusian dialect of Spanish. This was the variety of the language taken across the Atlantic by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. You can still note certain similarities between Andalusian and Latin American Spanish today. However, there are significant differences between the Spanish spoken in the majority of Spain and Latin American Spanish, which includes:
- Pronunciation and seseo – Pronunciation is amongst the most immediately noticeable differences. Spaniards will pronounce “ci” or “ce” distinctly as “th”. Likewise, to a certain extent, “z”. Latin Americans would be more likely to pronounce them as “see”, hence the term “seseo” which refers to this phenomenon.
- Plurals – In Spanish, there are informal and formal versions of “you”, as well as singular and plural. These are different depending on where in the world you are too. In Spain, vosotros is used. In some parts of Latin America, ustedes is used.
- Vocabulary and slang – Most of the words commonly used to refer to action and objects will be different in various Spanish-speaking regions. There is plenty of overlap, but there is more than simple pronunciation differences which set the two apart.
Your Spanish language business strategy: Don’t generalize
Both Latin American Spanish and the Spanish spoken in Spain have a huge amount of “internal” variations to keep in mind:
Spain has seventeen regions with their own cultures and dialects – including Galician Spanish, Extremaduran Spanish, and Murcian Spanish – as well as entirely distinct languages like Catalan and Basque spoken within its borders. When compared to Latin American Spanish, Mexico alone has over 100 dialects according to some sources.
Aside from these two broad groups, there are also other types of Spanish spoken in various parts of the world:
- Caribbean Spanish – Should not be forgotten by those planning to do business in the Dominican Republic, Cuba or Puerto Rico.
- Canarian Spanish – Somewhat similar to Caribbean Spanish, but only used in the Canary Islands.
- Llanito – A type of Spanish and English mix only used in Gibraltar.
- Spanglish or “pocho” – Words sometimes used to describe the Spanish and English creole languages used by various communities in the US. There are many Spanglish varieties. These vary depending on the original versions of English and Spanish which are combined to make the language and in the degree to which one or the other is dominant.
- African Spanish – Spanish-speaking parts of Africa have several different dialects, including the official Equatoguinean Spanish.
Some may wonder whether it’s best to learn French or Spanish for business purposes. This article suggests that Spanish is, without a doubt, among the top languages to learn for international business. Possibly, the top, following Mandarin. Whether you choose to enter a new market and learn the language or localize your marketing collateral to reach Spanish speaking consumers, keep these tips in mind.
Create a Spanish language strategy for your business, comes with various nuances. Need some help figuring it out? Talk to existing Spanish speaking customers, reach out to consumers in your target market, and consult or hire a local freelance language expert to ensure your messaging is correct and relevant.
Julie Giguère is the managing director of Asian Absolute. She holds responsibility for Asian Absolute’s global Project Management, Quality Assurance, and Vendor Management teams. Julie also personally led the start-up of the company’s operations in Bangkok and Panama City and manages the company’s sales offices in other locations.
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