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Spanish Voice-Overs:  'Neutral' And
Precise Reaches The Most Listeners
 
By Amy Taylor
Voice Actor
 
What exactly is "neutral Spanish"? Ask 10 people and you’ll probably get 10 different answers.
 
In my opinion, neutral Spanish is what the television news anchors speak.
 
Those who do it well have no discernable accent, and that is what I try to achieve when doing Spanish voice-overs.
 
TO BE UNDERSTOOD
 
The Spanish television anchors in the U.S. speak neutral Spanish in order to communicate with the masses. Likewise, when I'm asked by a voice seeker what kind of Spanish I speak, I tell them that my Spanish is neutral.
 
I define it as Latin American Spanish, spoken specifically to be understood by as many people of Hispanic descent as possible.
 
To achieve this, I do not use regional words or drop the "s” - and I make sure to enunciate each word.
 
The reason is this: if my audience includes people from Mexico, Chile, Cuba and Tenerife, my goal is to have each one understand the message.
 
STARTED IN SPAIN
 
I don’t have a country-specific accent. I learned Spanish initially while living in Spain.
 
I got a degree in Spanish, then worked in Puerto Rico as a news anchor for a largely bilingual audience.
 
While on the air, I was taught to speak deliberately and to enunciate each word.
 
UNIVERSAL TERMINOLOGY, TOO
 
One key thing to keep in mind when doing Spanish voice-overs, especially if you’re the one with the task of translating the script, is to use the most universal terminology possible.
 
For example, baterias is a common way to say batteries in many Spanish-speaking countries, but pilas is more widely understood.
 
Similarly, the word pantallas is understood in Puerto Rico as earrings, but in most countries the words aretes and pendientes are the acceptable way to say earrings.
 
Now, if I wanted to buy a pair of earrings in Old San Juan, I’d ask the vendor how much the pantallas cost, and I’d probably get a better price.
 
BE PRECISE
 
In neutral Spanish voice-overs however, it’s all about using the precise word that will:
  • reach the most people,
  • avoid cultural confusion, and,
  • in some cases, avoid offensiveness.

DOES COPY OFFEND?

If the copy you are recording was translated by someone else, I believe it is imperative to notify the client of any wording that you feel might be offensive to the listener.
 
I once had a script arrive with hundreds of prompts translated using the familiar tu form.
 
However, usted is more common to hear on voice prompts for formal situations, and it is offensive in some cultures to be addressed in the informal tu.
 
The client has the right to decide, and in this case, we might like to leave it in the familiar form. But I feel it is my responsibility to notify them of potential problems.
 
SPEAK TO EVERYONE ...
 
I do a lot of work for New York City-based clients. The Latino population of New York City is comprised of people from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America and Spain who have just about every regional dialect imaginable.
 
So how do you speak to everyone?
 
With 20+ countries that have Spanish as their primary language, it is impossible to please everyone.
 
However, if you are auditioning for a job and the direction asks for Universal Spanish, Standard Spanish, Neutral Spanish or Global Spanish, they are most likely looking to hear a Spanish that has no regionalisms, and where each letter is pronounced.
 
For example, you can hear the difference between les gusta and le gusta. The "s” must be pronounced clearly in the former.
 
THE MELTING POT
 
Nowadays in the U.S., there is a melting pot within the melting pot.
 
It consists of Spanish speakers; a dash of 1st generation, a pinch of 2nd generation and even 3rd generation Spanish speakers - all conversing, learning from each other and morphing accents.
 
CORPORATE VOs
 
And although anglicized words have crept into the vernacular as "Spanglish,” they are not acceptable in corporate voice-over.
 
I have heard them on commercials and some radio imaging, though. English words are used for emphasis or to portray a certain edginess. But that’s about it.
 
IVR, corporate narration, and other formal voice-overs that are created for the Spanish-speaking population here in the U.S. are done in what I call neutral Spanish.
 
TO SOUND NEUTRAL ...
 
Since Spanish-speaking actors come from so many different countries, it is customary to take special acting classes that teach a neutral form of speaking before they film telenovelas - which air in just about every Spanish-speaking country.
 
If I had to choose a country where I believe the Spanish is the most neutral, I’d say Mexico or Colombia.
 
But no matter where you’re from, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to lose your regionalisms to get that neutral sound.
 
SOMETIMES ACCENTS DESIRED
 
Sometimes I am approached by clients who ask if I can perform Mexican Spanish. I tell them that I cannot, but I gladly refer them to another talent who can.
 
There would be no point in me auditioning for those jobs since I would not be hired for them.
 
If the client asks you where you grew up, what your nationality is, and if Spanish is your native language, be upfront with them. I don’t believe people should audition for a role that they’re not suited for.
 
PLENTY OF WORK!
 
There will be clients who refuse to hire you if you are not a native speaker from the specific country they’re looking for.
 
That’s okay. Whatever your nationality, say it loud and proud.
 
There is enough Spanish voice work out there to go around. ¡Les deseo mucha suerte! (Best of luck!)
 
ABOUT AMY ...
 
Amy Taylor is a bilingual voice talent specializing in Spanish and English voice-overs. She has recorded commercials for brands inlcuding SONY, Sunsilk, Verizon Wireless, White Castle, Ad Council, MacMall, and Liberty Travel, and is the current winner of the Voicey Award in the "Best Female Voice” category. She will speak at VOICE 2010 in Los Angeles, on June 4 on the topic of International Voiceover.
 
 

 

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Comments (10)
Johnny Sanchez
11/12/2015 at 2:16 AM
Thank you for this insightful and very helpful guide. Very helpful.

I only have one comment and, while seemingly unrelated.. it is related due to the nature of language.

Latino is only, really, for those of us whose families and cultures.. our history... is rooted in the Americas.

In other words, Spaniards are, technically, not Latino. They are, however, Latin. We, the Latino/a, population have indigenous blood (and, even often, African) blood in our families. We are, therefore, Mestizo and/or criollo. So that one little letter.. the "O"... acknowledges that our history is mixed with Latin (whether that be Latin from Spain or Portugal - but it is European) and Indigenous of the Americas (Chibcha, Azteca, Maya, Taino, Borinqueño, Inca, etc...) and even some African. We are Mestizo (mixed) or criollo - not mixed but still born of the Americas and with American indigenous influences in our culture. Latino.

Think of the word tax.. you add the letter "i" to that word and it becomes a whole different word. Taxi. Hose.. add the letter "U" to it and it becomes "House". One letter changes the full meaning of a word. Latin means of Southern Europe... and when you add the "O" it means we acknowledge both the European and our American Indigenous and African history too.

Due to colonialism, we have fought hard to not ignore our indigenous and African roots. And Spaniards gave us a beautiful language, but they also killed off our ancestors and raped our mothers... which is why we were born... the Latino race was born. La raza Latina. We are a mix.. we are the conqueror and the conqueror... we are both, wrapped into one. We may also be hispanic... but only those of us from the Americas are Latino. And while Brazilians are not Hispanic (since they speak Portuguese) they are Latino too because of the Indigenous American and African culture in their blood and their history - like the rest of us from Latino America. This is what bonds us. Please, I ask that you not call Spaniards Latino since this is erasing what we - as Latinos - have fought hard to reclaim. Our Indigenous American blood and African blood as well. Thank you for reading my commentary.

Again, your blog was very helpful and I genuinely mean that. Thank you.
Johnny Sanchez
11/12/2015 at 2:11 AM
Thank you for this insightful and very helpful guide. Very helpful.

I only have one comment and, while seemingly unrelated.. it is related due to the nature of language. Latino is only, really, for those of us whose families and cultures.. our history... is rooted in the Americas. In other words, Spaniards are, technically, not Latino. They are, however, Latino. We, the Latino/a, population have indigenous blood (and even often, African) blood in our families. We are, therefore, Mestizo and/or criollo. So that one little letter.. the "O"... acknowledges that our history is mixed with Latin (whether that be Latin from Spain or Portugal - but it is European) and Indigenous of the Americas (Chibcha, Azteca, Maya, Taino, Borinqueño, Inca, etc...) and even some African.

We are Mestizo (mixed) or criollo - not blood mixed but still born of the Americas and with American indigenous influences in our culture.

Latino. Think of the word tax.. you add the letter "i" to that word and it becomes a whole different word. Hose.. add the letter "U" and it becomes house. One letter changes the full meaning of a word.

Latin means of Southern Europe... and when you add the "O" it means we acknowledge both the European and our American Indigenous and African history too.

Due to colonialism, we have fought hard to not ignore our indigenous and African roots. And Spaniards gave us a beautiful language, but they also killed off our ancestors and raped our mothers... which is why we were born... the Latino race was born. La raza Latina. We are a mix.. we are the conqueror and the conqueror... we are both, wrapped in one.

We may also be hispanic... but only those of us from the Americas are Latino. And while Brazilians are not Hispanic (since they speak Portuguese), they are Latino because of the Indigenous American and African culture in their blood and their history. This is what bonds us.

Please, I ask that you not call Spaniards Latino since this is erasing what we - as Latinos - have fought to reclaim. Our Indigenous American blood and African blood as well.

Thank you for reading my commentary. Again, your blog was very helpful and I genuinely mean that. Thank you.
Jorge Velasco
5/14/2010 at 2:43 PM
Give it a try Joe! I'm Puertorican just like you, and when I moved to Colombia I thought I'd never lose my accent!

It's a matter of practice. LOTS of practice!

Saludos a mis colegas Joe, Joseph, Dan, and everyone around!
Amy Taylor
5/13/2010 at 4:09 PM
Thanks for all the feedback!

Joe, your situation is quite common. Sometimes a regional accent creeps in especially if we live in an area that's densely-populated with people who speak a similar variation of Spanish. We may not notice it much when we speak.

My advice is to listen to the nightly news - not the local one, but the national one on Univision and pay close attention to how they speak. Reading aloud is also really helpful. El Diario or similar publication would be a good read. Spanish literature is also really nice to practice out loud.
Practice, practice, practice!

¡Suerte!
Amy:)
Joseph Andrade
5/13/2010 at 3:41 PM
Hi Amy,

I'd like to chime in with the rest of my "compañeros" and thank you and applaud you for the great article. We just don't see enough information with regard to Spanish VO, so this was fantastic.

In my opinion,in spite of the "chilango" accent associated with Mexico City, I would still say that Mexico City and Colombia have the most neutral Spanish. Daniel, hermano, como que en Honduras hablan español neutral. You shook the nest alright! ;)

By the way, Joe, one of the only methods I know of that will help is to read out loud and over-pronounce each word and letter. And practice, practice, practice!

Saludos,
Joseph Andrade
www.jandradevox.com
Dan Hurst
5/13/2010 at 1:46 PM
What an outstanding article!!! Congratulations Amy for your superb insight, and thanks John for publishing it!

The voiceover industry is expanding quite rapidly in the multi-language arena - probably faster than any other area - and by demand, we are going to have to abide by some standards of performance. I'll be sharing this article a lot with clients that are adding Spanish to their production schedules.

Just one note: EVERYBODY knows that Honduran Spanish is the MOST neutral!!! HA!HA!HA! Just thought I'd whack the nest.

Dan -Daniel Eduardo- Hurst
www.DanHurst.com
Jorge Velasco
5/13/2010 at 1:45 PM
Hola Amy. Saludos desde Colombia!

As a voice talent from Colombia, I can say we (mostly from Bogotá) have the most unaccented and universal Spanish accent. However, most professional voice actors from Latin America should be able to sound kind of neutral.

I don't consider Mexican accent as neutral. Mexicans have a distinctive accent from the rest of Latin America ,but sometimes it is requested by clients because of the large Mexican population in the U.S.

Nice article. Thank you very much!

Jorge V.
Joe Rodriguez
5/13/2010 at 12:17 PM
Amy,

Interesting article. I just recently did a job for a client that requires a more "neutral" Spanish, but being a New York Puerto Rican, I find that my P.R. accent creeps in. Do you have any specific recommendations for reducing or eliminating regionalisms in one's accent?

Joe Rodriguez - http://www.voiceoverthespian.com
Amanda
5/13/2010 at 10:54 AM
Amy:

Great article. As a producer for multilingual VO, I often run up against this issue. You have described neutral Spanish VO perfectly. Some of my talents are definitely sick of me telling them to retake a segment because they dropped an "s" somewhere! And I love when my clients say a voice talent "must" be from some place they aren't from, because they really just cannot tell.

One big mistake that clients often make, though, is to ask for one VO that covers both Spain and Latin America. I personally do not agree with this approach, especially with texts that have very specific terminology or a lot of slang, where you risk having major differences between the two.

Thanks,
Amanda in Arlington, VA
Pablo Hernandez
5/13/2010 at 8:21 AM
¡Excelente artículo, Amy! Esta información es tan valiosa como el oro, pues es de los pocos artículos que se encuentran sobre voice-over en español. Muchas gracias por compartir tu experiencia con nosotros.

What a great article, Amy! For me, this information is so valuable since this is only one of a few articles about Spanish voice-overs that can be found on the Internet. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us.

Saludos desde Puerto Rico/ Greetings from Puerto Rico,
Pablo Hernandez
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