Differences Between Spanglish and Code Switching and its Implication for Marketers

Languages are constantly evolving to suit the needs of its users, this can clearly be seen when looking at the Hispanic/Latino population living in the United States. This segment of the population has blended their language, cultural heritage, and the experience of being Latino in the U.S. with American culture in order to navigate and simplify their day-to-day lives. As a result, trends such as Spanglish and code-switching have become a natural way of communicating for U.S. Hispanic consumers. We will discuss what each of these trends are, as well as the implications that they have for advertising to Hispanic consumers.

Let us begin by discussing code-switching, which can be defined as the practice of moving back and forth between languages, in this case English and Spanish, at one time (Nordquist, 2019). It is also referred to as code-mixing or style-shifting and occurs more often in conversation than in writing. An example of code-switching could be the phrase “Gracias (thank you) for the lovely gift,” and “Here I come, mi hermano (my brother)” (Korzenny & Chapa, 2017). In both examples, Spanish and English are mixed in one sentence that correctly uses both languages. When interviewing Hispanic consumers for this paper, I found that most of them do not normally mix both languages when conversating with others. For example, when asking the question “Do you normally mix English with Spanish when speaking to another Spanish speaker?” One respondent answered “Sometimes I do yes, I try not to when I’m in a professional environment. I really learned that having worked for a bilingual nursing school, they frowned upon switching back and forth between English and Spanish. However, friends and people that I am comfortable with, yes I will use both languages.” This answer represents how code-switching may happen more between close friends and family members than it does in professional settings.

Now that we know what code-switching is, lets discuss the use of “Spanglish” and some examples of how it can be used in conversation. “The term has been used by Hispanics for a long time to refer to the common practice of mixing lexicon of both Spanish and English in the same sentence, or adapting English terminology to the Spanish Language” (Korzenny, Chapa & Korzenny, 2017). According to an article titled “Spanglish: The Hybrid Voice of Latinos in the United States” the term was first coined by Puerto Rican writer Salvador Tio in the late 1940’s (Casielles-Suarez, 2017). The term Spanglish has also been used to refer to code-switching, however when looking at it from a narrower perspective, it involves the transforming of English-language words into Spanish-sounding ones even if the original meanings from English are lost. Examples of Spanglish taken from a textbook include the phrase “Necesito filar la aplicacion” (I need to fill out the application), and “Parquea la troca atras de la yarda” (Park the truck behind the yard) (Korzenny, Chapa & Korzenny, 2017). In these cases, English words are converted into a code that may resemble Spanish but are in fact not part of the Spanish language.

Spanglish has also helped in the acculturation process of new immigrants who arrive to the U.S. without any knowledge of the English language. “It can also be said that Spanglish is accelerating the process of acculturation for newcomers to the US, bridging the gap between Spanish and English” (Bazan-Figueras, 2014). By slowly acquiring the language of the new country, immigrants are able to continue to speak in their native language while also learning a new language at their own pace. In addition, the uses of code-switching and Spanglish among U.S. Hispanics are widespread due to a variety of reasons. The first has to do with immigrants who often find themselves living between two cultures and languages. Thus, as Lourdes Torres argues “code-switching seems to be a way of asserting one’s identity as a different user of the English language” (Korzenny & Chapa, 2017). Another reason is attributed to educational background, for example how young Hispanics raised in the U.S. experience and learn a language without formal education in Spanish may play a role in their use of code-switching and Spanglish. For example, when asking Hispanic consumers why they personally use Spanglish, one respondent answered “Cause it’s just easy, that’s how my brain works. My first language was Spanish and I speak English more often, but when I’m speaking to someone that also speaks Spanish it takes less effort to try and translate everything.” This answer may reflect many of the thoughts about Spanglish that young bilinguals have who grew up speaking both English and Spanish in their households.

Moreover, the situation and context matters a lot when thinking about using Spanglish or code-switching during a conversation. In one interview with a college aged Hispanic millennial when asking in what situations do you typically speak in Spanglish, she said “When I talk to my mom or sometimes my boyfriend. Really anyone that also speaks Spanish, and it can’t be in a professional setting.” However, I received quite the opposite response when asking my Abuela the same question, her response was “Nunca, noo!” So, although Spanglish is widespread amongst Hispanics living in the U.S., not everyone agrees with this trend, especially older generations who are already assimilated and have their preference for language.

In conclusion, Spanglish and code-switching are trends that will continue to be used well into the future by bilingual speakers, newcomers to the U.S., and by those who are not as proficient in the Spanish language. Therefore, marketers should care about how they communicate to the Hispanic consumer which represents a huge segment of the U.S population. “In the United States, there are over 50 million people who speak Spanish. Among Hispanics who speak English, 59 percent are bilingual” (Delvin, 2017). Understanding when to mix languages when communicating to Hispanic consumers is another important takeaway for marketers, for example, different members of a Hispanic family may have varying levels of proficiency in the language being used in the advertisement.

Likewise, marketers need to consider whether their product or service was introduced to Hispanic consumers in Spanish or English, as vocabulary in Spanish may have more of an emotional appeal to Hispanic consumers who grew up with these products in their country of origin. When asking the question “In what situations do you typically speak in Spanglish, one respondent said “I try not to speak Spanglish. I try to only speak English or only speak in Spanish. I may revert to using a word in Spanish sometimes because there are some words that carry more weight in Spanish than they do in English.” This quote helps to illustrate the importance that certain Spanish words have on Hispanic consumers, and why marketers should take this into consideration when designing their marketing messages. Lastly, marketers should be aware of the subtle uses of code-switching, and under what circumstances do bilingual speakers switch from one language to another.

By Isaac Levine  – Hispanic Marketing – Florida State University


Bazan-Figueras, P., & Figueras, S. (2014). The Future of Spanglish: Global or Tribal?.
Perspectives on Global Development and Technology. Retrieved from

Casielles-Suarez, E. (2017). Spanglish: The Hybrid Voice of Latinos in the United States.
Atlantis Journal of the Spanish Association of Anglo-American Studies. Retrieved from

Delvin, T. (2017). How Many People Speak Spanglish, And Where Is It Spoken?. Babbel
Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/how-many-people-speak-spanglish-where…

Korzenny, F., Chapa, S., Korzenny, B.A. (2017). Hispanic Marketing, The Power of the New
Latino Consumer. Routledge, p157-165.

Nordquist, R. (2019). Learn the Function of Code Switching as a Linguistic Term. ThoughtCo.
Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/code-switching-language-1689858



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