It’s time to take care of business like a boss.
Perhaps you’ve just started working at an international NGO based in Peru.
Maybe you’re seeking out English teaching jobs abroad.
Or maybe you’re not planning to do business in Latin America, you’re just going for sun and surf.
You need to know Spanish for business.
Understanding how Spanish works when used in business settings is critical for accomplishing virtually any task in a Spanish-speaking country. That’s because you’re dealing with professionals and businesspeople all the time, even if you’re just enjoying some relaxing vacation time.
Imagine you have a problem in your hotel room. You need to know how to speak maturely and handle the situation with class.
Or imagine you’re trying to get an important document mailed out, but the people in the shop won’t seem to get motivated to help you in any way.
To get gears turning, put things in motion and generally get sh*t done, you need Spanish for business.
Where Will You Use Spanish for Business?
Perhaps it’s better to ask, “Where won’t you use Spanish for business?”
Spanish for business is more than just language, and you’ll need to arm yourself with more than words and expressions. You’ll need to understand the layers of culture underlying that language to speak effectively and get your business done efficiently.
Here are some common situations in which language learners find themselves needing specific Spanish knowledge for business.
First, there are two obvious ones. You’re probably here because you are currently doing (or are preparing to do) one of the following:
- Volunteering abroad in a Spanish-speaking country
- Working abroad in a Spanish-speaking country
In your home country, where Spanish is not the official language, you may run into these situations where Spanish for business is helpful:
- Working for major corporations and organizations with branches in Latin America and/or Europe
- Dealing with Spanish-speaking clients, co-workers and supervisors
There are many more unexpected situations when you’ll need Spanish for business while abroad:
- Navigating government and immigration offices
- Managing logistical tasks like buying plane tickets, reserving hotel rooms and acquiring travel documentation
- Making customer complaints
- Getting the best deals for your purchases
- Getting household employees, shop owners, restaurant employees and hotel staff to help you in a timely manner
Basically, learning how to speak Spanish like a polished businessperson turns you into a better client as well. You’ll understand why certain types of customers are avoided, ignored or scammed in Spanish-speaking countries, and thus you can ensure that you’ll be the kind of client people want to help.
You’ll know all about common obstacles that professionals face in the Spanish-speaking world when earnestly trying to provide good service, meaning that you can better help achieve good results for every transaction.
5 Savvy Ways to Polish Your Spanish for Business
1. Explain yourself clearly.
Be friendly! It is considered extremely rude to not extend a friendly greeting such as “Buenos días” or “¡Hola, muy buenos días!” Be sure to respectfully address your conversation partner with their professional title or “señor(a).”
Know how to sell yourself. Introduce yourself with your title and affiliation to your company or organization. “Me llamo Maureen y soy coordinadora científica para la ONG Fundación Runa, basada en Archidona.” Well, actually, this is not quite my go-to introduction. One key alteration brings me to my next point.
Consider a name change. If your name is utterly impossible to pronounce in Spanish, forget your pride—change that sucker. The abundance of vowels and alien pronunciation of my name made it not only challenging to say, but also impossible for people to remember. You can have three choices open to you:
1. Opt for a nickname (I experimented with “Mau” and “Mo,” both of which sounded beyond weird)
2. Use your middle name, which is standard procedure for many Spanish speakers.
3. Jump ship to a similar-sounding Spanish name. I changed my name to “Marina” for practical purposes.
Once you pick a name, stick with it. It’s not just for introducing yourself, but for building your professional network, making contacts and creating a strong reputation for yourself. You will also want your personal website and LinkedIn profile to incorporate this name. People need to be able to spread your name and discuss your talents when you’re not physically present. That’s how you might land your next job!
Win over your audience. When working in certain industries, you will often need to address groups of people. Teachers at schools and institutes may need to address rooms full of parents and staff. NGO workers may need to interact with large groups, lead workshops, host educational seminars or training sessions, make community presentations or speak at conferences and networking events.
Any professional working in Latin America may reasonably expect to have to attend or lead workshops, as these are integral to business culture there. In any of these moments, you will need to stand up, introduce yourself and explain your purpose for being present in a friendly and polite manner.
- Señoras y señores, muy buenos días a todos. (Ladies and gentlemen, good morning to everyone.)
- Saludos a todos. (Greetings to all.)
- Estimados colegas, les quisiera agradecer [por estar aquí]. (Esteemed colleagues, I would like to thank you all [for being here].)
- Estoy muy agradecido(a) (I am very grateful)
2. Know the Ropes, Know the Etiquette
Use the appropriate formalities. Many professionals prefer to be addressed by their professional title. Doctor(a) may be used to address people with master’s or doctorate degrees, any teacher from pre-K to university-level may go by profesor(a) and anyone doing any sort of technical work may be referred to as ingeniero. Regardless of their position or title, you should address anyone you work with using usted and the third person.
There’s no word for “now.” You may think behavior doesn’t factor into language, but, oh, it does. This way you won’t think your business partner is being disingenuous for saying disculpe la demora every single day when he or she pops in a tad late or completes a given task behind schedule. This phrase is demanded by etiquette—even when lateness is expected—and you should keep it in mind for the next time almuerzo runs late.
There’s a tongue-in-cheek joke that ahora means some vague time in the near future, ahorita means sometime today (maybe) and ahora mismo means within a few hours—so even the word for “now” doesn’t really mean “now.”
Keep a thrilling Spanish book, some great tunes or a Spanish language learning app on hand whenever you’re preparing to go to a meeting. That way, when they invite you into their office 20 minutes late (or 1 hour late) you won’t feel the pressure of having to wait around. Always anticipate waiting time.
Warm country mentality is real. People want to please you. In Latin America, the general warmth of many countries’ cultures (not all, but most) will compel people to soften the truth—or lie blatantly—so you don’t feel bad. This means that coworkers may tell you that a project is progressing excellently (when they haven’t started it) or clients may tell you they love your product (and never come back). You can avoid this to some degree by assuring people that you want honest opinions and information, and you can also follow “the rule of 3’s” for answering questions—ask three people and take the average response as correct.
Confirm everything, twice. People may not show up on time, or at all, if you don’t get confirmation. If you set an appointment one week in advance, call the day before to confirm participation.
3. Write On: Draft the Best Business Letters and Emails
There are five main elements you should be aware of when writing professional Spanish letters and emails:
A. Formalities: You’ll need to include as much specific information as possible on most print documents. That means you’ll need a header that includes pertinent business information (your company’s name, location and contact information), the date and the name whoever is responsible for the content of the document (Responsable: Maureen Stimola). Before the introduction, you may also want to include some quick description of the letter’s purpose (Notificación de Taller 3.1: Manejo de Plantas).
B. Greetings: Some common greetings for business Spanish emails and letters are:
- A quién corresponda (To whom it may concern)
- Señoras y señores (Ladies and gentlemen)
- Estimados(as) (Dear respected people)
- Estimado(a) señor(a) (Dear respected sir or madam)
- Querido(a) señor(a)… (Dear respected sir or madam)
- Colegas (Colleagues) This may be proceeded by Queridos(as) o Estimados(as) for added warmth.
C. Pleasantries: One American supervisor of mine, living and working in Ecuador, was a huge fan of shooting off quick, one-line (or one-word) emails, straight to the point. For example: “Thanks please have that done by tomorrow.” While he adjusted slightly for Spanish emails sent to Ecuadorian colleagues, he didn’t adjust enough.
People were often put off by these cold messages, as we soon learned from lack of response and direct commentary. Even if you’re zapping chains of emails back and forth, some bit of warmth must usually be added:
- Espero que este mensaje le encuentre bien. (I hope this message finds you well.)
- Espero que esté todo bien. (I hope all is well.)
- Espero que haya estado bien. (I do hope you’ve been well.)
- Gracias por su respuesta. (Thank you for your response.)
- Me disculpo por no haber mandado este mensaje antes. (Apologies for not having sent this message sooner.)
- Fue un placer verle la semana pasada. (It was a pleasure to see you last week.)
- Me alegra poder colaborar. (I am happy to be able to collaborate.)
- Les quisiera apoyar (I would like to support you all)
D. Meat: You want to ask for something to get done? Here’s how to sweet talk your way to business success.
- Estaría muy agredecido(a) si pudiera… (I would be very grateful if you could…)
- Tan pronto como sea posible (ASAP)
- He adjuntado el documento pedido a este mensaje. (I have attached the requested document to this message.)
- No dude en contactarme por cualquier cosa. (Don’t hesitate to contact me for anything.)
- Espero su respuesta. (I await your response.)
E. Closings: When you sign off, leave the door open. Invite them to contact you, just as you might in an English business email.
- Atentamente (Attentively)
- Sinceramente (Sincerely)
- Respetuosamente (Respectfully)
- Gracias y saludos (Thanks and greetings)
- Saludos (Greetings)
- Un cordial saludo (A cordial greeting)
4. Learn How to Make Business Phone Calls in Spanish
Make it snappy. One quick line should be enough to explain who you are and what’s up. For example, “Muy buenos días. Habla Marina de la ONG Fundación Runa. ¿Me puede comunicar con la ingeniera María González Vázquez?”
Be firm. Explain what you want crisply, clearly and indicate your level of urgency. If you want anything to get done over the phone, be straight to the point and sound serious.
Figure out the saldo situation. This is kind of a big deal. In Latin America, many professionals (and clients, collaborators, etc.) use pay-as-you-go phone credit. They might buy $1, $3 or $10 at a time—but everyone runs out sooner or later. Some people will simply avoid making phone calls for hours or days, and use this as an excuse after the fact. Others will avoid making calls to people using different phone networks, simply because calling between providers costs extra. Certain well-prepared individuals have two phones, one for each network provider.
So, you need to tell people which network provider you use when giving out your digits. When you get someone’s phone number, make sure you get all their phone numbers. Then, if someone hasn’t called you who’s supposed to be calling, don’t be shy about giving them a ring—they might just be out of saldo!
5. Use Excellent Resources for Business Spanish Learning
There are plenty of ways to keep learning more about business culture and language in the Spanish-speaking world.
- FluentU: This is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. Dozens of business-related Spanish learning videos are available now, and the collection is always growing! Go learn business Spanish vocabulary and etiquette by watching authentic videos actively—for free. Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App from the iTunes store.
If FluentU was starting to sound like a pretty good option, here’s a little more info: it isn’t just about watching videos—it’s about actively learning and practicing the language.
The active learning tools are probably the best part. Click any subtitled word for an on-screen definition. Study and reinforce new language lessons with the multimedia flashcards and vocabulary lists that are custom-made from the vocabulary and grammar you encounter while watching your chosen videos.
If you like the sound of that, then I’ve got great news for you—you can enter the big giveaway right now for a chance to win a lifetime subscription to FluentU. You only have until May 28th to throw your name in the hat, so take advantage of this opportunity before it’s too late.
That’s more than enough to get you started on the right track to business success!
The main takeaway here is that, no matter what, don’t be surprised when business runs differently than you’d expect.
Living and working abroad is challenging and surprising in more ways than one.
Just keep practicing and keep your mind open to learning new things.
Soon, it’ll all just be business as usual.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.