Technical innovation drives new concepts that require new words, and popular usage dictates which words take root. When English terms express concepts that have no Spanish equivalents — or when the Spanish equivalents are too cumbersome — Spanglish terms are born.
But proper Spanglish usage — and even spelling — varies across Spanish-speaking markets. Here’s what you need to know to use Spanglish correctly in your translations.
Twitter, the popular and widely accessible messaging platform, provides a great example of how Spanglish terms spawn: instead of creating new verbs for concepts around Twitter, all of Latin America uses terms like tuitear (“send a message through Twitter” or “to tweet”), tuitero/a (“someone who tweets”), tuiteo (“a tweet”) and retuiteo (“a retweet”).
Many Spanglish terms are appearing in official language dictionaries as new words. Here are a few more Spanglish terms inspired by technology, as well as their formal equivalents.
- Hardware, software, and email are all direct cognates, but email would more formally be mandar un email or enviar un correo electronico.
- Skypear, “to Skype” and Googlear, “to search in Google,” are close adaptations from their English originals and have no equivalents in Spanish.
- Linkear, meaning “to hyperlink,” would be hacer un enlace if translated literally.
- Updatear, “to update,” would be actualizar.
- Clickear, “to click” in English, would be hacer clic, pinchar, or apretar formally, but none of these are commonly used in the technology context.
- Taguear, “to tag,” as in coding, would be etiquetear.
- Onbordear, “to onboard,” as in bringing a new employee up to speed, would be quite a mouthful: completar el proceso introductorio.
These widely accepted technical Spanglish terms show up in translations everywhere. Yet, preferred terms and usage vary across Spanish-speaking countries.
The Real Academia (RAE) is the definitive guide to Spanish grammar and terminology for the Iberian Peninsula. Espousing a traditional, formal approach to Spanish, the RAE is biased against Spanglish if there is already an adequate term.
Latin America, however, embraces foreign terms and concepts as more popular and appealing than traditional terms. As a result, several Latin American countries are more liberal with the use of Spanglish.
For example, in the case of Twitter, RAE’s tuit comes off as “too Iberian” in Argentina, where the English term “tweet” is preferred — with a “W” instead of the “UI” which is technically the correct spelling for Spanish sounds.
With 26 dialects of the Spanish languages, variation in the use of Spanglish can be significant. Style guides can help you document your Spanglish usage conventions by market. Typically, that means one style guide per target dialect.
However, International Spanish is a variant that is acceptable for multiple Spanish speaking locales.
Highly branded marketing materials are usually customized for each specific locale, so your choices about Spanglish should be, too. Be sure to use bilingual in-country linguists who are hip and current with locale-specific terminology.
But if you’re translating technical, legal, financial, or other specialized materials, region-specific customization is not required. When you need a Spanish variant that’s comprehensible to all and offensive to none, follow the RAE conventions.
Every global company has budget constraints, and most translation programs strive to recycle past translations as much as possible. For cost-efficiency and for the sake of consistency, leverage whichever terms appear in past translations, but for new translations, direct translators to choose terms that are consistent with the tone and usage of the rest of the material.
Sometimes Anglicization goes too far and creates an error. For example, some may use refrescar (“to refresh”) but, refrescar means “to cool off” — and that’s a completely different meaning for a completely different context. The correct term is actualizar, “to update” (or “to bring up to date”).
And some use salvar instead of guardar for the concept of saving a file, but salvar means “to save” along the lines of religious salvation, which is definitely the wrong concept in a technical discussion.
When in Doubt
The use of Spanglish isn’t clean and clear, but references are available to help you. For more information on Spanglish usage, RAE developed a reference called “Fundéu BBVA,” offering the best use of Spanish in all methods of communication. It gives recommendations, news, a Wiki, and advice (including a “contact us” function), with content updated daily on modern usage of the Spanish language.
Major producers such as Microsoft, Apple or Google have created term bases and style guides in several versions of Spanish; these can be another great reference on Spanglish. Those guides provide the most up-to-date terminology for several Spanish-speaking regions. There is plenty to learn from the language resources they have made available online for free. Check out Microsoft’s Language Portal or the Apple Developer Site for their latest style guides or standard terminology.
All Spanish-speaking markets use some degree of Spanglish — and will continue to do so as technology evolves — but context and target demographics may influence your exact terminology choices. Given that these word choices influence how markets perceive your brand, it’s crucial to consider your audience, their preferences, and their expectations.