Language: Spanish? Yes, but whose Spanish?

January 1, 2004: Content analysis, Spanish? Yes, but whose Spanish?

According to Radio Unica executive Jose Cancela, Hispanic media lives on the approximately 15 million Spanish-dominant Hispanics living in the U.S. But the decision to publish or advertise in Spanish is not that simple. After a publisher decides to use Spanish, it must then decide which Spanish language to use…Argentinean? Colombian? Mexican? Castillian? Dominican?

To a Cuban-American living in Miami's Little Havana, a text with Argentinean expressions can seem more foreign than an English text. Since people read newspapers or magazines in order to recognize themselves, the right choice of language and expressions is crucial to making a connection with readers. If the language chosen is not the right one, the message, be it editorial content or advertisements, will not be received.

“Looking at language can be a minefield,” Jose Raúl Pérez, consumer marketing director at People en español, noted at a conference organized by the AAP (Association of American Publishers) last November. People en español's goal is to reach Americans who want to read in Spanish. Pérez advised using straightforward, common language and avoiding clichés, double-entendres, and stereotypes. “Be extremely wary of sayings, buzzwords and slogans that may have multiple meanings depending on the customer's ethnicity.”

People en español uses Colombian Spanish, according to Pérez. Colombian Spanish is neutral and appealing to Latinos of every origin. The problem with “neutral” is that it can tend to “water down” the connection with readers. Pérez acknowledged this issue when he highlighted that “a typical issue of People en español involves 2-4 different covers to target Mexicans & Central Americans in the west, South Americans and Cubans in the southeast, and Puerto Ricans, US Born and Dominicans in the northeast and Puerto Rico.” He advised “focusing on themes that appeal to most Latinos: fun, faith, family and farándula.” While these are common themes in Hispanic entertainment magazines, they don't carry over into Hispanic newspapers.

New York Spanish-language daily newspapers devote 15.8% of their story space to news from Latin American countries, and an additional 3.9% to general international news. Local news gets 18.7%, while sports news – mostly from Latin America – takes up 20.9%. On the west coast the content of Spanish-language newspapers does not seem to differ much from their east coast counterparts. In El Latino, a Spanish-language weekly (circ. 40,000) published in the San Francisco, San José and Oakland markets, local and regional news (Latino-related community events and California news) accounts for 30% of the content.