Content: The Language Controversy

In targeting U.S. Hispanics with ethnic media products and marketing campaigns, the question at the heart of the decision making process of media companies and advertisers, is the question of addressing the target group in Spanish or English. While it is clear that their common language does not divide the group of Hispanic immigrants, it does divide the media and marketing products targeting them – with the clear majority choosing Spanish as the voice of communication. Yet the language controversy demonstrates that there seems to be a considerable degree of confusion about the bilingual and bicultural segmentation of the Latino group in the U.S., as well as about the varying degrees of language proficiency among Hispanic immigrants in the country. What are the facts behind this confusion? The latest findings suggest a very complex picture, but point to the fact that English will definitely be the preferred language of U.S. Hispanics in the future.

The cultural environment

Rodolfo de la Garza, Vice President of Research at the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, emphasizes that it is the cultural environment that determines the language abilities and preferences of a particular social group. At the same time de la Garza added that: “The envisaged economic benefits promised by speaking English provide the main incentive for Hispanic immigrants to learn the language. It practically guarantees a better job.” Yet de la Garza also noted that while U.S. Hispanics do not form a homogenous group – two thirds of Latinos are from Mexico, while the rest comes from other Latin and South American countries and from Spain – the differences in Spanish are not important for media and marketing purposes. It is the ability to speak English which counts in this matter. “But while there seems to be exist stable bilingualism within Latino families, the same is not true for the individuals comprising them,” de la Garza concludes.

Language-divide decreases in importance

Adriana Waterston, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Horowitz & Associates, also emphasizes the bilingual balance among U.S. Hispanics as an important factor in marketing strategies directed at Latinos. “It is clear that Spanish is the marker of cultural origin for Latinos in the U.S., but our research also indicates that only 78% of U.S. Hispanics actually speak Spanish, while 76% of them also speak English.” Moreover, there also seems be a slight preference for choosing English among U.S. Latinos, with regards to the media and marketing products they respond to, Waterston added. “While only 37% of the Hispanics in the U.S. seem to prefer to watch their TV programme in Spanish, 42% actually prefer to see it in English”, Waterston concluded. As a consequence, the importance and reach of English language media and marketing products targeting U.S. Hispanics is clearly increasing. Edward T. Rincon, president of Rincon & Associates, also supports this view: “According to our research there are significant segments of the U.S. Hispanic population, who are not consuming Spanish language media and marketing products targeting them.”

Print also preferred in English

As the latest studies indicate, similar figures also apply to the print industry. According to David Morse, CEO of New American Dimensions, which recently conducted a study on marketing to Latinos in English, “one of the main findings was that U.S. born Hispanics clearly prefer English in the publications that target them.” Edward T. Rincon, president of Rincon & Associates, added that “even though most Hispanic households consist of members with varying language abilities, there is a general tendency to greater assimilation within the second and third generation of Hispanic immigrants that leads them to substitute Spanish for English.” This goes hand in hand with an increasing identification of Hispanic immigrants with their new American home. A development, which Rodolfo de la Garza regards a normalisation: “There is a growing tendency among Latino immigrants to refer to themselves as 'American,' which is why this particular group is often not reflected in surveys analysing the U.S. Hispanic consumer market.”

Franz Solms-Laubach