Latin America Localization Tips

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5 Tips for Subtitling Foreign-Language Video Footage for Editors
September 9, 2020

Latin America is a vast region that includes South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico, which all speak romance languages (mainly Spanish, Portuguese, French). The countries in this region have growing populations that are becoming even more tech savvy and interested in content from abroad.

In this blog, we will share some of the best tips for making sure that your content is able to reach the historically rich and fascinating mix of cultures that is Latin America.

[Average read time: 4 minutes]

 

concrete high rise buildings at daytime

Bogota, Colombia, photo by Random Institute

Latin American Spanish – Neutral vs. Regional

Every language has its own rich linguistic history and unique characteristics. Latin American Spanish is no exception. Since its introduction in the 15th century from Spanish colonizers, Spanish has grown to be the most popular language throughout Latin America, with over 300 million speakers, and has evolved into its own form of Spanish: Latin American Spanish. Latin American Spanish and Castilian Spanish (Spanish spoken in Spain) are mutually intelligible much like American and British English, but have their own linguistic differences that we go over in detail here. Even within Latin America, there are many dialects and regional accents that need to be considered, depending on your localization strategy.

If you’re looking to localize your content for Spanish speakers throughout Latin America, make that clear to your localization provider. Your service provider will then work with the translators, subtitlers, and voice talents to avoid region specific vocabulary and accents so that the content is easily understood by any Latin American Spanish speaker. This effectively creates a “neutral” form of Latin American Spanish so that your content can be understood by Spanish speakers living in Mexico, Peru, Colombia, etc. without localizing content for each specific Latin American country–which could otherwise multiply your costs considerably. This form of localization is suitable for technical manuals, e-learning videos, and similar content.

However, if you want to get more specific with your localization strategy, consider the major regional subdivisions of Latin American Spanish: Mexican, Central American, Caribbean, Andean-Pacific (Ecuador, Peru, southern Colombia, and more), Rioplatense (aka Argentine-Uruguayan Spanish), and Chilean. Each of these areas have their own distinct flavor of Spanish that gives the native reader/listener a sense of home if your content is specifically localized for each region. Getting specific with your localization is particularly impactful for marketing and entertainment content.

For example, if you happen to have a Chinese-language family drama that you would like to lip sync dub for Mexico and Chile, recording the dubbing into neutral Latin American Spanish might alienate Mexican and Chilean audiences. It will be hard for those audiences to emotionally connect to the story if the characters are speaking a form of Spanish that they generally associate with educational materials. However, strong Mexican and Chilean Spanish dubbing of the show will make it easier for those viewers to connect to the story and better engage with the characters.

If costs are an issue, a film dubbed for one region may be used for a smaller region (e.g. Central America getting the dubbed Mexican Spanish version of a movie). It’s important to consult with a professional localization provider like JBI Studios to see what is the best localization strategy for your content and budget.

 

aerial photography of cityscape near sea

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, photo by Agustín Diaz

Brazilian Portuguese

Brazil is the largest country in Latin America with a population of over 200 million (eighteen times the population of Portugal) and it makes localization into Brazilian Portuguese (pt-BR) one of our studio’s most popular requests. The language was brought to Brazil at the start of the 16th century by colonizers from Portugal and mixed with dozens of indigenous languages. Because of this linguistic intermingling as well as the geographic distance between Brazil and Portugal, Brazilian Portuguese developed and diverged quite significantly from European Portuguese (pt-PT).

Though still mutually intelligible, the accents are quite different: Brazilian Portuguese has a strong lilt and cadence with its open vowels whereas European Portuguese sounds more thick and the words more swallowed. There are also different versions of formal and informal speech, to address someone in Brazil “você” can be used in both formal and informal situations. However, in Portugal “tu” is exclusively used for informal, personal situations. There have been efforts to standardize Portuguese across the Atlantic, such as the Portuguese Spelling Agreement of 2009; however, there are still significant differences in spelling that continue to exist, e.g.: the word “reception” is “recepção” in pt-BR and “receção” in pt-PT. Therefore, these differences and many more, make Brazilian Portuguese the language of choice for localizing for Brazilian audiences.

When translating from English into Brazilian Portuguese (as well as Latin American Spanish), the text will generally expand in size by up to 20%. Therefore in order to keep the subtitles in time with the images for subtitling or to keep the narration in sync with the video for voice-over, the subtitles and/or script will need to be edited and timed correctly. Also, there are different capitalization rules in Brazilian Portuguese than there are in English which can cause issues with brand names, titles, and user interfaces. It’s therefore important to establish capitalization and other style guidelines prior to localization.

 

people standing on corner road near concrete buildings during daytime

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, photo by Jezael Melgoza

Summary and the Other Languages of Latin America

The above are just some of the considerations for the two main languages in Latin America (Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese); however, Latin America has a swatch of other languages as well. Other languages left by the colonial expansion into Latin America include Dutch in Suriname, English in Guyana and the Falkland Islands, French in French Guiana. There are also Polish, German, and Italian speaking immigrant communities. Indigenous languages, once the lingua franca for their region, are unfortunately facing linguistic extinction with the exception of Guaraní in Paraguay that still holds official status and is still widely used.

Neutral Latin American Spanish localization can be used to reach the Spanish speaking population at large in Latin America, however, if your audience belongs only to a specific country or two, it may help to localize specifically for those countries. The most populous country in Latin American is Brazil and it’s important that the voice-over accent and spelling matches the local Brazilian Portugeuse and not European Portugeuse.

Latin America is a diverse, vibrant region and we hope that this blog gave you some insight into how to successfully localize for this market.

 

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