From my experience, people who are not involved in the world of languages and, specifically, translating into Spanish are not fully aware of the existence of what is known as neutral Spanish, also referred to as “standard” or “international” Spanish. In this issue, I think that a Spanish person does not intend that his “Spanish” is so different from that spoken in Mexico or Argentina. Obviously, these variants do have a different accent, and certain words are used in one area and not in another, but there is no real awareness of how different variants of Spanish can be, and it is also surprising to see the similarities in many colloquialisms.
When a customer goes to a language services company with the need to translate a document into Spanish, independent of the format, it is likely that a good salesperson will ask what is the target country for the text. In many cases the customer will want to direct it towards an audience in a specific country, but not infrequently, it may want to direct it to anyone who speaks Spanish. That’s where the so-called neutral Spanish or standard Spanish comes into play.
The fundamental aspect of neutral Spanish is that in most cases you can use without fear of any Spanish speaker not understanding the text. Usually using this model can be translated as general or very specific texts and that overall tends to hint at the technicalities of the same way between professionals, beyond the Spanish-speaking country they come from.
The problem arises mainly when we face advertising or literary texts which often refers to cultural references of the country concerned, or the terminology used can be of common life. For example, if we are translating a children’s story and talk about a particular game, each country has a different way to call it, thus, what name do we use to talk about something as simple and ubiquitous as a childhood game that many people grew up playing? Do you mean anyone who speaks Spanish? Does it even have a positive or negative connotation depending on the country?
Or in the case of an advertisement, does it contain a certain set of words or metaphor that would only make sense in a particular country due to a particular socio-cultural context?
In these cases, the translator requires a high degree of knowledge as well as creativity to reflect as much as possible the original idea and to communicate the message in exactly the same way to anyone who reads it in Spanish, regardless of their country of origin.
There will be times when it is impossible not to opt for one particular choice and sometimes it would be wise to ask the client which Spanish is needed, if this obstacle cannot be avoided, for the final product.
However, in many cases will be more a question of naturalness than of understanding. What I mean here is that as a translator I approach this problem on a daily basis and a clear example would be the translation of “cell phone”: in Spain this type of phone is called “móvil”; however, the vast majority of Spanish-speaking countries call it a “celular” so my logic tells me that is more “standard” to use “celular” but clearly a person from Spain, even though they understand exactly what it means, still feels that the text sounds “weird”.
The customer should be aware of these issues, which are of great importance to the public that interests them or to maximize their scope of action.