Hablando se entiende la gente.
We like to say that in Spanish.
If we were to say it in English, it would be something like, “we have to talk to understand.”
But we could also say “Hablando nos entendemos, brother.”
Which of the three are we going to choose?
Over the years, we have seen a clear evolution of the language us Latinx use in this country.
There are now more than 50 million Spanish speakers in the United States. And the percentage of Spanish-dominant, bilingual or English-dominant people has been steadily shifting.
The United States has the second-largest number of Spanish speakers in the world, next only to Mexico. Spain is in third place. And yet, although 88 % of Latinx believe it is important for the Spanish language to live on, the fact is that Spanish dominance is on the decline for second or third generation Latinx, according to Pew Research. And that trend will only continue.
So, in order to have a conversation with Latinx, what language would be the most appropriate?
Spanish? English? Or even Spanglish?
Well, the answer is: it depends…
It depends on the message and your target group. Cultural insights will tell you what language to use.
A palabras necias, oídos sordos. (or “To foolish words, deaf ears.”)
One of the common mistakes from many institutions is to fall into stereotypes. That will most probably turn off a lot of the people they intended to reach!
That’s why the language you use is one of the most critical decisions to make when you want to communicate with your audience. Because if your language is not relevant, your message won’t be either.
It must be based not only on the message you want or need to convey but also on your target audience, the people to whom you are talking. . So that people will say, “Yeah, I get you because you get me!”
What do you need to take into consideration to connect with Latinx?
Well, to name just a few things: Country of origin or heritage, generation, part of the country, sociocultural level, acculturation, assimilation. That information will give you hints as to their language preference.
Since Latinx are a multicultural group, there are many nuances we need to understand to communicate effectively. A language is more than words. A language reflects how people think and, more importantly, how they feel.
We need to be AUTHENTIC. And to be authentic, we need to be sincere. We need to show a deep understanding of the culture.
Slang, accent, expressions, or sayings are details that give people a sense of belonging. And we need to respect that feeling of connectedness to a group or community. You wouldn’t make content for a person of Cuban descent in Miami the same way you would make it for someone of Mexican descent in California. That would probably backfire because language connects on an emotional level.
If these 50 shades of communications were not enough, today Latinx audiences are exposed to content and advertising on both English-language and Spanish-language networks and platforms, including e-commerce. Language is a living and organic “thing.” It keeps evolving, and with Spanish language dominance on the decline but refusing to die, we believe the “thing” today is Spanglish.
Pero like, who speaks Spanglish?
Spanglish is a form of code-switching that has become a way of life in many multigenerational families.
Spanglish speakers are often perfectly able to speak both English and Spanish fluently.
For many who speak it, Spanglish is not just an effect of being raised bilingually. it’s a source of pride in their Latinx identity. Speaking a certain way can signal to others that you’re part of their community. In his book Living in Spanglish, Ed Morales wrote, “Spanglish is what we speak, but it is also who we Latinos are, and how we act, and how we perceive the world.”
It has nothing to do with the purity of the language. We might even suggest a “pure” language is somewhat of a “dead” or “endangered” language, one that was left by the side unable to evolve. Don’t you think?
Put your money where your mouth is.
In conclusion, you want to use language that is familiar to the Latinx group you are addressing. So if you are spending money in your communications strategy, it will be more effective if you do some research to identify and understand that specific group of Latinx.
If you would like to explore a little more on this subject, listen to our podcast where we have a great conversation with Rafael Ulloa, director of the national newspaper El Tiempo Latino and El Planeta in Boston. ¡Nos quedó super awesome!