Working Spanish – Formal vs. Informal
Want to speak Spanish like a pro? Then you will need to learn the business lingo.
Spanish is the official language for 21 countries and territories (not including the USA, which alone has 41 million Spanish-speakers! Whether you’re working in business and management, or you plan to, it’s more important than ever to be able to communicate in a foreign language. Learning Business Spanish dramatically improves the quality of your resume and opens up an entirely new world of amazing opportunities. So, where do you start? By addressing the new Spanish-speaker with whom you’re talking, of course!
Usted, Tú, Vos
Wait a minute… who are you talking to? Spanish presents a bit of a conundrum here for us native English speakers—there are 3 ways to say “you” in Spanish.
YOU. We use this word every day and don’t think much about it. In English, “you” is one simple word used to address everyone: your boss, kids, great-grandmother, legal advisor, business counterparts, financial planner, and anyone else.
Meanwhile, in Spanish, the word “you” has the capacity to be polite or insulting, depending on which form is used. Learning about the nuances of this essential word and how to use it correctly in the workplace is of upmost importance to… well, you.
Which To Use and When?
Check out this chart to see details on which form of “you” to choose, when you should use it, and where it’s most often heard:
Want to learn more about vos?
Formal vs. Informal Language
Formal and informal variations of language exist to fulfill specific purposes. The two styles differ in tone, word choice, and the way the Spanish verbs are conjugated.
Formal Language Means Business
Formal language is less personal than informal language and is utilized in most business contexts. You use formal speech when you address professionals and other highly-respected members of society, such as within the legal, banking, and other official sectors, as well as store owners and customers. It is safe to default to formal language with strangers and older people. Formal language does not use colloquialisms, slang, or abbreviations.
Informal Language Is Relaxing
Informal language is more casual and personal, and it is used when you are speaking to someone with whom you are comfortable and familiar. It can be used for work colleagues who you know well and socialize with, as well as those who have the same rank/title and education level as you. Informal language is used when sending text messages, writing personal emails, and in a few casual types of business correspondence.
Bring on the Examples
You use formal speech in Spanish to
- introducing yourself at a business meeting or presentation: Hola, mi nombre es Mia. Es un gusto conocerle. (Hello, My name is Mia. It is a pleasure meeting you.)
- respond to someone else’s introduction: El gusto es mío. (The pleasure is mine.)
- introduce someone else at a business meeting or in a presentation: Le presento a Señor Rio… (Let me introduce you to…), Me permite presentarle a Maya… (May I introduce you to Maya…)
- address people with higher authority, such as your boss, business partner or customer—or older individuals who deserve respect
You use informal speech in Spanish to
- introduce yourself: Me llamo Mia. Mucho gusto. (My name’s Mia, nice to meet you.)
- introduce someone else: Te presento a mi amigo…. (Let me introduce you to my friend…), Permíteme presentarte a Maya… (May I introduce you to Maya…)
Talking to the Boss
Your boss greets you with ¿Cómo está usted? (How are you?)
You respond with Estoy bien, gracias. ¿Usted necesita algo hoy para el proyecto?
(I am well, thank you. Do you [formal] need anything today for the project?)
The verb necesita is used with Usted and this formalizes the sentence, while necesitas would accompany the informal tú. ¿Tú necesitas algo hoy para las tareas? (Do you need something today for your homework?)
Note: When speaking you can drop tú and usted. Here, they are included to show how they are tied to the verb.
Your customer calls you with urgency in his voice and you say Buenos días. ¿Cómo le puedo ayudar hoy? (Good morning, How can I help you [formal] today??
What would the informal variation be?
Buenos días. ¿Cómo te puedo ayudar hoy?
Are you noticing a pattern between the informal and formal direct objects: le and te?
Salutations and Closings
Salutations for business and professional emails
A quien corresponda (To Whom It May Concern)
Estimado Señor, Estimada Señora (“Esteemed Mr./Mrs.,” and “Dear”)
If you want to keep it formal, but have a relationship with the person, then you can use:
Querido Señor, Querido Señora (Dear Mr./Mrs.)
Closings for business and professional emails
Saludos (Sincerely or Regards)
Espero su respuesta. Saludos cordiales, Mari Barco (I await your response. Cordial Greetings, Mari Barco.)
Qué tenga un buen día or Qué le vaya bien (Have a good day)
Qué tengas buen día or Qué te vaya bien (Have a good day)
Hasta luego or hasta pronto (See you soon)
Chao (slang for goodbye)
When In Doubt—Choose Usted
Cuando no esté seguro, trate a las personas de usted. When in doubt, use the formal “you.” You can also take one step further and ask the person you’re speaking to which form they prefer. This ensures you are speaking respectfully and not offending anyone. If someone invites you to tutear (this word means to address each other as tú)– then you can move from usted to the tú form.
John is new to his position at work and is speaking to his business colleague, Mari, for the first time. She has the same title and education level but has been in the job longer. Therefore, she is a superior.
John: Hola, Mari. ¿Cómo está (usted)? ¿A que hora empieza la reunión con la gerencia?
(Hello, Mari. How are you [formal]? What time does the meeting start with Senior Management?)
Mari: Hola, John. Estoy bien. Me puedes tutear. La reunión empieza en 15 minutos.
(Hi, John. I am well. You can go ahead and use the tú form with me. The meeting begins in 15 minutes.)
John: Gracias, Mari. Entonces, voy a caminar contigo. ¿Necesitas que te ayude llevando algo?
(Thank you, Mari. I will walk with you [informal]. Do you need me to help you carry anything?)
What just happened? John was “invited” to use the tú form with his coworker, and hereafter he can be comfortable using tú instead of usted. Notice that John moved from formal to informal pronouns and the verb conjugations changed.
Why Use “Usted” in the Workplace?
To be polite: We always want to put our best foot forward at work. Learning the correct usage of “you” and its corresponding verb conjugations allows you to communicate politely to your business counterparts while you impress them with your excellent grasp of the language.
To be respectful: Many languages put an emphasis on respect, and Spanish is one of them. It is imperative that you also do research on cultural etiquette to learn what is respectable. Avoid blunders by studying up on Latino cultural etiquette for the workplace.
To gain an advantage: Communicating in the local language when doing business abroad gives you a competitive advantage over your monolingual peers.
Mistakes Are Part of the Learning Process
If you studied Spanish in school or with Homeschool Spanish Academy, you are probably more accustomed to conversing using the tú form (except maybe with your professor), so it is easy to fall back into your comfort zone when speaking with other people.
As a non-native Spanish speaker, you are going to make mistakes. Take it in stride as best as possible and correct yourself when you can.
Would you like a fun & free Spanish eBook?
Homeschool Spanish Academy’s free eBook for beginners called Weird & Wacky Spanish Stories for Beginners is best suited for A2 level and above, but it’s also perfect for A1 learners who wish to improve their fluency through reading. It’s fun for kids and adults!
Learn From a Native Spanish Speaker!
It’s not always easy to know what pronoun to use. The best way to improve your usage of tú and usted is to communicate with a native Spanish speaker. Arranging for a local conversation is a great option, but unfortunately, many of us have busy schedules and cannot find a time that is convenient for both parties. The brilliant convenience of Homeschool Spanish Academy lets you schedule a time that works for you to speak to a Spanish language professional at an affordable price.
One of my favorite parts of taking classes with Homeschool Spanish Academy is that I can ask questions about confusing words or phrases before a big meeting or trip abroad. One-on-one help from native Spanish speakers is only a click away. Approach your business meeting with poise and assurance. Sign up for your free class today!
Interested in More Workplace Spanish? Check these out!
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I began studying Spanish at age 11 and have been interested in language and culture ever since! While at university, I studied abroad in Spain and Costa Rica and got a B.A. in Environmental Economics with a minor in Spanish. After spending over a decade in corporate America, I now enjoy the simpler things in life. ¡Pura Vida!
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