3 communications barriers which your company may face in Latin America


Latin America is a huge region made up of widely distinct countries, so foreign companies may face communication barriers when trying to do business in the region.

Being prepared and having access to a wide range of information can help your company thrive. Hiring a 360º communications agency is another smart way to avoid making mistakes.

Differences in Latin American communication

Latin America is a diverse region with a wide range of cultures, customs, and languages, and home to a diverse mix of indigenous, immigrant, and colonial languages.
According to UNESCO, around 700 indigenous languages are spoken in Latin America; many of them are endangered due to factors such as language suppression, migration, and globalization.

The most widely spoken indigenous languages in Latin America include Quechua, Aymara, Guarani, Nahuatl, and Maya.

In addition to indigenous languages, Spanish and Portuguese are the two most widely spoken languages in Latin America due to their colonial legacy. However, other European languages such as French, English, and Dutch are also spoken in some countries, particularly in the Caribbean.

Furthermore, pidgin and Creole languages have emerged in Latin America due to historical interactions between different groups of people, such as Haitian Creole, Papiamento, and Palenquero.

Therefore, while Spanish and Portuguese are the most commonly spoken languages in Latin America, the region is linguistically diverse, with many other languages also spoken by various communities.

Communication Barriers in Latin America

Communication can vary widely across different Latin American countries, and even across different regions of the same country.

1- Formal Language

One significant communication difference in Latin America is the use of formal language. In many countries, including Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela, it is customary to use formal language in professional settings, even among colleagues.

This means using titles and formal pronouns, such as “usted” in Spanish, instead of the more informal “tú.” In contrast, in countries like Argentina and Uruguay, it is more common to use informal language, even in professional settings.

2- Pace of communication

Moreover, the pace of communication may also differ across Latin America. In some countries, such as Mexico and Colombia, people tend to speak quickly, while in other countries, such as Argentina and Uruguay, people speak at a slower pace.

3- Non-verbal communication is essential

Another communication difference in Latin America is nonverbal communication. In many countries, nonverbal cues such as eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions play a crucial role in communication.

For example, in countries like Brazil and Mexico, direct eye contact is considered a sign of respect, whereas in other countries like Chile, too much eye contact may be interpreted as aggressive. Similarly, gestures and physical proximity may also vary across different countries.

Here are some examples:

Gestures: Hand gestures can vary across different countries in Latin America. For example, in Brazil, people commonly use the “ok” sign by making a circle with their thumb and index finger, whereas in other countries like Argentina and Uruguay, this gesture can be considered obscene.

Personal Space: In countries like Mexico and Brazil, people tend to stand closer to each other when talking, while in countries like Argentina and Chile, people tend to keep a greater distance.

Eye Contact: Eye contact is another nonverbal communication difference in Latin America. In some countries like Brazil and Mexico, direct eye contact is seen as a sign of respect, while in other countries like Peru and Ecuador, too much eye contact can be interpreted as confrontational or aggressive.

Touch: In some countries like Mexico and Brazil, it is common for people to hug or kiss on the cheek when greeting each other, while in other countries like Chile and Argentina, handshakes are more common.

Facial Expressions: Facial expressions can also differ in meaning across Latin America. In some countries, such as Brazil and Colombia, people tend to use more exaggerated facial expressions when communicating, while in other countries like Peru and Argentina, people tend to be more reserved.

Final Thoughts

When venturing into Latin American markets, the language barrier is one of the most prevalent challenges faced by business owners who do not speak Spanish or Portuguese.

As you can see, Latin America is full of cultural and linguistic variety, and some continental countries such as Mexico and Brazil have a wide range of local accents and expressions.

Take Brazil as an example. A “Mineiro”, born in Minas Gerais, will commonly use expressions that don’t make sense in the state of Pará, and vice-versa.

Brazil is also the only Latin American country whose main language is not Spanish. Its official language is Portuguese, and getting this wrong can be considered a gaffe when doing business.

Depending on the target market, having a solid understanding of these languages can be essential in establishing successful personal and professional relationships.

So as you plan to expand your business into Latin America, we recommend having at least a basic proficiency in the local language, to facilitate communication and build rapport.

Therefore, awareness of these communication barriers and cultural differences is essential to adjusting your communication style when doing business in Latin America.

Jai Bhatt is a Passionate Blogger, Entrepreneur & Digital Marketer in India. He shares his thoughts on TopMostBlog, WordRankSolutions & HealthBoosterHub. He has been blogging since 2013 & writes about Web Design, Web Development, SEO, Tech, Travel & Health blogs.