English, Spanish, Spanglish: How to reach Hispanics

Are you willing to understand Hispanics beyond stereotypes? Marketers know US Hispanics are shifting the population patterns, but they are not sure how they should approach them.

“So how do you suggest we use Spanglish. What examples can you provide?”

Wholly guacamole. Up to that moment I had never thought of Spanglish as a language marketers would use. Nobody who is a linguist, writer, translator that I know would ever use it on paper because it is a street language. But this brand was waiting for an answer.

These are the 3 layers of bilingualism, the way I see it:

1. Crossover, crosscultural

In the crosscultural crossover, you can use the message either in English or in Spanish: the cultural background justifies both options.

It is 100% English or Spanish and the same culture element surrounds the message at all times, whether in one language or another.

For Honda Latino it looks like a no-brainer (see examples of their ad below): a Latino artist who is doing the crossover in his career. He changes languages but his culture, his roots -the streets the artist grew up in LA- don’t change who he is, his identity:

Now in English. Only the language changes:

2. Is Spanglish the best of both worlds?

When BabyCenter did its 2013 Acculturation survey I was kind of surprised to see panel participants stating that they felt good seeing ads in two languages in the same place. This means mixing Spanish and English, a type of Spanglish. I really thought it was a mistake. But as I started thinking on how we really talk at home, it made sense.

As a native Spanish speaker, I don’t know if I am able to keep a conversation 100% in Spanish anymore. There is always some English whether it is words or the way we structure a sentence. Even when we literally translate English expressions.

Other Hispanics have no trouble jumping from one language to another and recreate both in a playful way. They do so by mixing both in a single sentence: Esos pants son muy cool. ) or they go to a deeper level and hispanicize English words: estoy muy desapuntado (I am very disappointed), los sprinkles del jardín (the sprinklers in the garden), la troca (the truck), la carpeta (the carpet), rentar un apartamento (to rent an apartment)… you name it.

But when I need important information and I can’t miss a thing, and putting so much effort in understanding the words and the language forbids me to think clearly anymore, having info in Spanish or someone explain every single detail in my language is the way to go.

3. The bilingual factor

The PEW Hispanics affirmation that the majority of Hispanics is bilingual makes it key for marketers to joggle both languages. How they do it depends on their target. But it cannot be taken lightly.

I recently was caught in a meeting about the content-ad landing page connection. If your content is in Spanish and the ad in that content is in Spanish, should the page for that ad be in Spanish too?

By not doing so, there isn’t a seamless user experience in my opinion. But others argue that most Spanish speakers also speak English and they feel comfortable reading an ad in English. Maybe. But are do all bilinguals share the same degree of bilingualism?

Depending on the degree of acculturation, some Hispanics are mainly Spanish speakers who read, speak some English. Others are 50-50 bilingual, and then there are those who speak and understand better English than Spanish.

With such a wide range of bilingual profiles, deciding what part of the message should be in Spanish and what part should be in English needs to be at the center of a strategy and not a matter of convenience (why spend more money in a bilingual campaign when they can get by with English only?)

Remember that above language there is always culture. We cannot just think that any message in any language will attract, engage the Hispanic population. We should not only translate but find the right message for this segment based on culture and understanding of their journey and acculturation process.

Clarisse Céspedes

Journalist and Content Strategist. SEO, sponsorships and video. Follow me on Facebook and @ClarisseCespede.

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