Regional Variations in Spanish Words Translated from English

The same words may have different meanings in various Spanish speaking regions.

Most Spanish-English-Spanish dictionaries do not account for the sheer variety and flexibility of everyday Spanish words and phrases in use throughout Latin America and in Spain. They might not inform you that a particular word in Spain can convey a very different meaning in Chile, and vice versa.

This represents a significant challenge for corporate managers who want to transmit a precise message to a specific country or region. How can one ensure that the letter and spirit of the English text will be correctly communicated, thereby preventing an unintentional faux pas from hurting your company's reputation?

The solution the translators use is a process called localization. A translation team tackles the job, with a lead translator providing a draft of the text and editors who are from the target country localizing it. The local editor has a thorough knowledge of regional terminology and makes sure that the copy is 100 percent accurate for his or her native land.

The Rennert Translation Group, with the help of its Spanish translators from all over the world, has compiled this chart to provide examples of why localization is necessary when you are targeting specific countries and regions:

English Phrase Translations by Country Comments
Apricot Most: albaricoque
Argentina, Chile, Uruguay: damasco
Mexico: chabacano
In Spain: saying that someone is "chabacano" means he is vulgar.
Baby Most: bebé
Argentina, Uruguay: beba (girl), bebe (boy)
Chile: guagua
In Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico: a "guagua" is a bus.
Bug Most: bicho
Mexico: insecto
In Puerto Rico: "bicho" has a sexual meaning (it's a key part of the male anatomy). A bug killer was once translated as "mata bichos" and, as you can imagine, this sounded very funny in Puerto Rico.
Cake Most: pastel
Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela: torta
Bolivia, Costa Rica: queque
Colombia: ponqué, torta
Cuba: cake
Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico: bizcocho
Panama: cake, dulce
Peru: queque, torta
Spain: tarta
"Torta" in Mexico means "sandwich" (torta de jamón)
Car hood Mexico: cofre Argentina, Spain: capó  
Car trunk Mexico: "cajuela", in other countries "maletero", "baúl"  
Department Store Most: grandes almacenes
Cuba: tienda
Colombia: almacén grande
Costa Rica: tienda de departamentos
Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Venezuela: tienda por departamentos
Mexico: tienda departamental
Panama: Almacén
Elevator Mexico: elevador, in most countries "ascensor"  
Eyeglasses Most: anteojos
Colombia: gafas, lentes
Cuba, Puerto Rico: espejuelos
Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, México, Venezuela: lentes
Spain: gafas
"Anteojos" is an old fashioned word in Mexico and Spain.
Fender Most: ala
Argentina: paragolpes
Colombia: guardabarro, guardafango
Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela: guardafango
Mexico: defensa
Puerto Rico: fender
Spain: guardabarro, parachoques
Good evening Most: buenas tardes
Colombia, Ecuador: buenas noches
In other countries "buenas tardes" means "good afternoon" and "buenas noches" means "good night."
Grocery Store Colombia: mercado
Costa Rica: compras
Cuba: bodega
Dominican Republic: víveres
El Salvador: pulpería
Guatemala: tienda
Mexico: super, tienda de abarrotes
Panama: abarrotería
Puerto Rico: colmado
Spain: supermercado
Uruguay: almacén
Venezuela: abastos
Hello? (answering telephone) Most: ¿Dígame?
Argentina, Bolivia: ¿Hola?
Cuba: ¿Oigo?
Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Venezuela: ¿Aló?
Mexico: ¿Bueno?
Panama, Puerto Rico: ¿Haló?
Uruguay: ¿Aló? ¿Hola?
Hot pepper Most: chile
Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru: ají
Colombia, Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico: ají picante
Costa Rica: chile picante
Ecuador: pimiento picante
Spain: guindilla
Jacket Most: chaqueta
Argentina: campera
Dominican Republic, Panama: saco
Mexico: chamarra
Peru: casca
Puerto Rico: blazer (women), gabán (men)
In Spain, for example, a "saco" is a large bag, for example, a large bag of potatoes. In Mexico "saco" is used for suits.
Knob (of drawer) Most: perilla In Spain: "perilla" is a goatee.
Lawn Most: césped
Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Peru: pasto
Colombia: hierba, manga, pasto, prado
Cuba, Dominican Republic: yerba
Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela: grama
Puerto Rico: grama, pasto
In Spain: "pasto" is grass for animals (for grazing) and "grama" is a type of grass for the lawn.
Muffin Most: panecillo
Argentina, Colombia: muffin
Bolivia: pancito
Guatemala: mollete
Mexico: muffin, panqué, pastelito
Peru: quequito Spain: madalena
In some countries: "panecillo" is a dinner roll and "panqué" is a pancake.
Popcorn Cuba: rositas de maíz
Argentina: pochoclo
Venezuela: cotufa
Spain: palomitas, palomitas de maíz
Recreational Vehicle Most: vehículo de recreo
Bolivia: vagoneta
Chile: casa rodante
Mexico: camper
Puerto Rico: RV
Spain: caravana
Venezuela: vehículo recreacional
Red Snapper Mexico: huachinango
Spain: pargo
Sidewalk Mexico: banqueta, acera
In many countries: "acera"
In Spain: "banqueta" is a bench