Training Your Ear for Different Spanish Accents
In an attempt to make products and services more relatable to the end audiences, advertisers and marketers are localizing their marketing messages. Localization, in a nutshell, is the act of taking a marketing message and adapting it by changing out the language, accent, dialect, etc. to make it apply to multiple local markets. It certainly helps increase the effectiveness of the advertisement!
In a lot of cases – most involving foreign markets – it’s a very smart move. But how do marketing managers and ad execs know with certainty that the foreign accent or dialect that they’ve recruited for each region is authentic?
Any accent coach or impressionist can tell you that accents hold different “placements” within the mouth. Since the advertising, marketing, and media are growing amongst Latin American countries, in this piece we’re going to focus on the various Spanish accents. Equipped with clips of each accent, by the end of this post, you’ll know what to listen for to tell the difference between a Colombian accent, Argentinian accent, Mexican accent, and others!
Recognizing a Colombian Accent
There are many different accents throughout the regions of Colombia. Bogota, as the nation’s capital, has a distinct accent and is most commonly incorporated into advertising and media. It is said to be quite neutral and can therefore be used more widely in the same marketing collateral without disengaging Latin American audiences from outside the region. That said, the Colombian accent has more of a musicality to it than the “neutral Latin American accent” used in the VO industry. Because of that, it carries an upscale connotation much like a UK English accent does to the ears of English speakers. This example of a skincare commercial shows how the Bogota accent can be used in advertising to a broad market without employing the standard neutral Latin American accent.
The Bogota accent is said to be distinctive in its clarity. It’s a bit slower and tends to be easier to understand. It is also recognizable in the ‘dropping’ of Bs and Ds at the end of words, but also for the pronunciation of all other letters.
Voice talent Daniela Sierra says:
Something definitely common in almost every region of Colombia, is that we soften the ‘D,’ the ‘G,’ and the ‘J’ in many words and we rarely realize it. In cities such as Cartagena, the ‘S’ is softened almost without uttering it, and in places like Medellín, that sound resembles that of the Spanish ‘Z.’
When compared to other Latin American Spanish accents, Colombian accents are recognized as spoken slightly slower. Even the coastal accents that are considered quick-paced within Colombia are dramatically slower than the accents heard in other countries like Cuba.
Voices has a handful of Latin American staff who were able to weigh in on this topic as well. They pointed out that while the Bogota accent puts an emphasis on pronouncing ‘LL’ as a ‘J,’ the coastal accents pronounce ‘LL’ as a ‘Y’ sound.
Bogota Accent – Notice the “J” sound.
Coastal Accent (Specifically from Barranquilla) – Notice the “Y” sound.
Recognizing a Mexican Accent
The Mexican accent can be described as “weighted” in the rhythm it uses. Conversationally, the last syllable of the last word in a sentence can be ‘dragged’ open to hang in the air which is referred to as a sing-song accent. The stereotypical Mexican accent that can be described as ‘aggressive’ and ‘clipped short’ is really only found in the northern regions of the country. It is not as all-encompassing as the stereotype has us believing.
Though every Spanish speaking country has its own vocabulary and dialect, Mexico has the most notable differences. For clients looking to employ Mexican Spanish in their advertising communications, keep in mind that the script might not only require translation, but a complete rewrite to really hit the nail on the head with the desired message.
Here is a roundup of commercials airing in Mexico. Turning on the “Closed Caption” allows you to see the words and follow along with how they’re pronounced. Notice that in Mexican Spanish, “G” is often pronounced as “H.”
Recognizing a Argentinian Accent
This accent is most recognizable for its unique pronunciation of ‘Y’ and ‘LL’ as ‘SH.’
“Also, their ‘S,’ in many cases, is replaced by the sound of a ‘J.’ Its inflections and the musicality of the accent’s phrases resemble that of the Italian accent,” says Daniela.
It can also be referred to as “sonorous” meaning it has the appeal of loftiness and impressiveness, yet uncomplicated – much like accents found in Colombia.
This video very clearly delivers on the unique qualities of the Argentinian accent:
Again, as an English speaker, turning on the Closed Caption subtitles will help you see what words have ‘LL’ in them, and can therefore hear the “SH” should of the narrator as it correlates to the ‘LL.’
Recognizing Other Different Spanish Accents
As a generalization, Latin Americans living on islands and coastal regions tend to speak more quickly.
The Cuban accent, as mentioned above, is very swiftly spoken. Many times, Spanish speakers from other countries find themselves asking for repetition or clarification.
The Puerto Rican accent is distinguishable in that rarely is an ‘R’ fully pronounced, rather an ‘R’ sounds like an ‘L.’
Marketing and advertising managers commonly group the neutrality of the Bogota accent in with that of the Ecuadorian accent! Meaning that the accents found in Ecuador are able to be used as an alternative to a broad-market project in the event that a Bogota accent isn’t available.
The accents found in Spain, in comparison to those in Latin America, are able to be identified by the pronunciation of “TH” in the place of any “Z” or “CIE” combination of letters.
In the following video, the “TH” sound is quite prominent. Though there is no Closed Caption to follow along with for this particular video, you can hear how frequent the “TH” sound is in comparison to the other video clips linked to.
Trusting Accent Authenticity
Now that you have a few tips to help recognize the authentic accent from those that aren’t, you can attempt your own quality control to ensure that the voice talent hired is delivering the performance that will best resonate with your Latin American audience.
However, it takes some time to really train your ear to hear accents in a language you don’t speak! And we’ve certainly made it sound easier said than done. So, if you find yourself in a ‘head-scratcher’ of a situation while trying to discern one accent from the next, remember that the support of a Voices Account Manager extends to accent authenticity checks. It’s just a part of the piece of mind you get when you allow us to work alongside you and your team!
Daniela recommends to clients who are keen on getting authenticity that they should bear in mind that not only do the differences in accents change from region to region of every country, but they also change when used in voice over work. The conversational and colloquial way of speaking are very different from the enunciation and articulation delivered during a VO performance. Depending on the end use of the recording, the performance might reflect a more conversational tone compared to a polished feel.
The option of using a neutral Latin American accent in a voice over is available to any company looking to produce a project. However, it is thought that the neutral accent disengages the audience, making the final project less impactful. Putting the effort into incorporating regional accents into voice over projects intended for a Latin American audience will ensure that each market hears and values the message you’re sharing.
Still having trouble telling the authentic Spanish accents from the pseudo accents? Sign up for a free Voices account to connect with an Account Manager who can provide that quality control for you!