Insights July 9, 2018

Why geography and culture matter.

Living Word
By Living Word

It’s not always as simple as ‘po-tay-to, po-tah-to, to-may-to, to-mah-to’. When it comes to translation, geography can affect much more than just pronunciation. For example, in Spain you might eat ‘tomatas and ‘patatas’, whereas in Mexico you would probably eat ‘jitomatas’ and ‘papas’.

Geography and culture need to be an inclusive part of the translation process in every language. Particularly in transcreation – creative translation for marketing. Whether you’re transcreating for Spain, Mexico or Argentina, it’s never going to be as simple as just translating it into Spanish.

Geography can have a massive impact on how language is used.

In Spain you would ‘coger un taxi’ (take a taxi) – but try this in Mexico and you’ll be in trouble as ‘coger’ has a somewhat vernacular, sexual connotation!

In Latin America, you would browse the internet on your ‘computadora’, whereas in Spain it would be your ‘ordenador’.


Cultural differences between countries and continents also have a big role to play in translation. Mexicans, for example, consider themselves to be much more polite than the Spanish and this is reflected in the language used.

“vosotros”, “vosotras” or “ustedes”?

One of the big examples here is in the use of ‘vosotros/vosotras’ and ‘ustedes’ – terms used to address a group of people; the equivalent of ‘you all’.

In Spain, ‘vosotros/as’ is commonplace among the well-acquainted, with ‘ustedes’ being used to address a group more formally. However, in Mexico (and Latin America generally) they only ever use ‘ustedes’.


This isn’t just a simple difference in a couple of words, this is an entire form of address which also filters down into the way verbs are conjugated when addressing groups – in other words, this kind of thing is really important! It isn’t something that can be left to chance.

When translating or transcreating, you need someone that knows not only the language, but understands your audience too. You need to speak to your audience in their language. Spanish is a great example of why you need to have a professional translation when communicating with potential clients and customers in another language, but there are many other languages that require the same care in translation. Consider the differences between the French spoken in France and French spoken in Canada. Or the differences between the German spoken in Germany, Switzerland or Austria.

Don’t leave anything to chance. If you’re unsure, seek advice and help from specialist linguists or your trusted translation agency.


If you would like to discuss your next transcreation project, we’re here to help: please email hello@livingword.co.uk or call +44 (0)845 873 7898.