E.g., 07/16/2020
E.g., 07/16/2020

A Growing Market: Spanish Speakers in the US

By: John Watkins, President & COO - Argos Multilingual

With Latinos representing 16% of the US population, they profoundly influence everything from the recent presidential election to major trends in business strategy. No company wishing to grow in the US market can ignore the Latino population.

Perhaps the earliest indication of the increasing influence of the Latino culture is the address made in 1996 by Madeleine Albright to the United Nations after Cuban jet fighters downed two unarmed civilian planes from Miami: “Frankly, this is not cojones, this is cowardice.” This speech, given to the UN, effectively turned the recorded comments of the Cuban fighter pilots into a memorable expression that resounded within the US, though context and cultural heritage affect how well it was received. In popular US English usage, “cojones” implies a brave attitude. In Spanish, however, this word is distinctly vulgar. The former US Secretary of State accomplished her goal by using a vulgar term—in the politics of that time, it worked. Marketing to Latinos generally benefits from better word choices. Volkswagen’s billboard campaign using the same term fell flat because they did not understand the culture and needs of the Latino market in the US. By understanding the market, we can help our customers deliver effective messages for marketing, human resource management, and legal goals.

Over 100 languages are spoken in the US, but the 2012 US Census reports that Spanish is the most common language among non-native English speakers. Communicating with the Latino market in Spanish is not a courtesy; it is a requirement! Much of the Spanish speaking population in the US is not fluent in English. In fact, nearly 50% of this populace identifies itself as having limited English skills—of 55 million Spanish speakers, 25 million speak English less than “very well” in their self-assessment.

The Latino labor force in the US is growing quickly and driving the need to provide content to them. The US Department of Labor reports that currently there are nearly 23 million people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, representing 15% of the current labor force. This number is expected to grow to 19% of the labor force by 2020. This results in a remarkable growth rate in Latino purchasing power: they are increasingly important as employees, healthcare consumers, and purchasers. Nielsen reports that the Latino buying power in the US will increase from approximately 1 trillion dollars in 2010 to 1.5 trillion by 2015. Consumers in this large and growing Latino market, while sharing many cultural similarities, do not comprise a single, homogeneous culture. Spanish speakers have immigrated to the US from a wide range of countries.

While there is an international body that oversees the Spanish language (La Real Academia Española at http://www.rae.es/), providing language standardization in all Spanish-speaking countries, clear regional differences remain.

In the US, these regional differences manifest themselves with Spanish speakers of various origins, most of whom came from Central and South America and the Caribbean. Within this heterogeneous culture, approximately 60% of the Latino population is of Mexican origin. As a result, much of domestic marketing in Spanish is directed to this population group, with efforts made to use vocabulary that can also be understood by Spanish speakers from other locales.

The Latino population in the US is large and, as such, somewhat slow to assimilate. Historically, sociologists considered that immigrants typically assimilated within three generations. For the Latino population, this does not appear to be true (though it is too early to know for sure). In general, small population groups assimilate more quickly because there are societal pressures to do so. Larger population groups take longer to assimilate because it is easier to retain their culture of origin. Today, approximately 80% of the first and second-generation Latino population speaks Spanish. Most telling, these Spanish speakers retain a preference for Spanish content when it comes to purchasing decisions. Language service providers have the needed skills to help US businesses and government agencies reach the Latino population. We have the skill set necessary to produce content for the Latino population that is sensitive to the culture and localized appropriately in Spanish. Already, language service providers are helping in a variety of ways:

  • Healthcare consumers in the US must be able to receive information from the medical providers and insurance providers in their native language. This has spurred tremendous growth in over-the-phone interpretation services, adding a new arrow in the quiver of the language services arsenal.
  • Employers must offer employment information to employees who do not speak English, including compliance information required under US labor law. Providing accurate translation of this content is critical for the Latino population and regulatory compliance.
  • US businesses need to create print, radio, and television advertising targeted to the Latino market, creating opportunities for cultural consulting and script customization.
  • Manufacturers increasingly require translated and localized support content for US consumers and call centers augmented by over–the-phone interpretation.

There are great opportunities for language service providers to grow as the Latino market grows in the US. Jump in and help your customers reach this market now!  

John Watkins

John Watkins is the President of ENLASO, taking that position shortly after the management buy-out in 2004. He has an extensive background in product engineering and localization, having worked in international business for over 25 years. Before leading ENLASO, he spent 15 years consulting with companies and government agencies in the US and Europe, helping them with operations research and data analysis, system development, business process engineering, international standards, and business administration. For 10 of those years, he worked with the European Commission in France, his home away from home. John also helps bring localization standards out of the background through sponsorships with open standards and open source solutions and direct support of the GALA Standards Initiative.