¿Hablas Spanglish? Why Social Media Platforms Must Adapt to the Bilingual Experience

text with spanglish and two people speaking

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital communication, a linguistic phenomenon is making its mark, one that reflects the complex cultural tapestry of America. Spanglish, the fusion of Spanish and English, is no longer confined to family kitchens and street corners; it’s finding new homes, one of them being social media platforms. Brands like Rare Beauty and McDonald's have recognized the power of Spanglish to connect with their bicultural audiences. Yet, as these brands embrace this unique linguistic blend, a pressing question arises: Why aren't social media platforms adapting to this bilingual experience simultaneously? 

The Bilingual Dilemma 

Growing up in a Hispanic-American household in border states often leaves individuals feeling like they stand between two worlds. Language, a fundamental part of culture, plays a central role in this experience. Spanish and English intertwine in many homes giving birth to Spanglish, a new language category in which we can expand our way to communicate with each other. Some family members speak only Spanish, others only English, and in other homes, both languages are spoken interchangeably. The result? A linguistic quilt where "mijo" (short for mi hijo) coexists with "mom," and "confleis" means all kinds of cereals.  

Spanglish challenges the conventional understanding of bilingualism. It's not two distinct languages; it's one language that weaves together the threads of two. For many, it's not about being able to provide an English word for a Spanish one; it's about navigating a language that's flexible, fluid, and uniquely American. 

Hispanic Heritage Month and the Importance of Spanglish 

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it's crucial to recognize the role of Spanglish in the lives of many Latinos in the United States. This month is the perfect time to celebrate the rich contributions of Latinos to American society. However, it's not just about looking back; it's about embracing the diversity of experiences within the Hispanic communities. 

A report by the Pew Research Center sheds light on the prevalence of Spanglish among U.S. Latinos. About 63% of U.S Latinos speak Spanglish occasionally, while around 40% use it often. Spanglish is not a mere linguistic curiosity; it's a living, evolving language that reflects the complex heritage and upbringing of second and later generations of Latinos. 

Social Media Platforms Falling Short 

While Spanglish gains momentum as a legitimate and vibrant linguistic expression, it encounters roadblocks on social media platforms. In a world that increasingly celebrates diversity and inclusivity, many social media giants still lack accommodating settings for bilingual users. 

Insights from our paid media team at Sensis reveal some startling limitations. One case stood out involving UnidosUS, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to serving Hispanic civil rights and advocacy. UnidosUS's mission is to empower and uplift the Hispanic community, which often involves providing vital educational content. Our paid media team attempted to run a whitelisted influencer campaign for UnidosUS on various social media platforms, they encountered an unexpected complication. These platforms seemed to operate under a rigid language dichotomy—your content could either be in English or Spanish, but not both. It was as if the platforms were forcing users into a linguistic straitjacket, neglecting the reality of millions of bilingual individuals who seamlessly navigate both languages in their daily lives.  

If your content includes both English and Spanish, you are forced to make a choice. In the case of UnidosUS, this meant having to classify their educational content as either English or Spanish, limiting the reach and effectiveness of their campaigns. 

The question that arises from such limitations is: where does this leave the substantial portion of the population that identifies with both languages and may appreciate educational content in either or both languages? The answer is clear: these individuals are being left out of the conversation. 

In a country as diverse as the United States, where bilingualism is not an exception but a norm, its time social media platforms adapt to this linguistic reality. By providing language flexibility and targeting options that cater to bilingual and bicultural individuals, these platforms can better serve their users and the organizations trying to engage with them. 

The Need for Balance 

While social media platforms aim to reduce discrimination and promote inclusivity by removing targeting options, they should also acknowledge and facilitate language fluidity. Striking a balance that allows for the seamless use of Spanglish and other bilingual expressions is paramount. 

In an era where language is a vital tool for advocacy, education, and community building, it's crucial to ensure that platforms adapt to the linguistic diversity of their user base. By accommodating Spanglish and similar linguistic hybrids, social media platforms can contribute to a more inclusive online space that truly mirrors the multicultural tapestry of the United States. 

What Should Be Done? 

Spanglish is not just a linguistic oddity; it's a testament to the richness and complexity of Latino culture in North America. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, let's also celebrate the language that reflects the everyday lives of many Latinos. It's time for social media platforms to catch up with this linguistic revolution, recognizing that language is not static but fluid, flexible, and uniquely American. By embracing Spanglish and accommodating bilingual experiences, social media platforms can create a more inclusive and diverse online world for all. 

As we advocate for linguistic inclusivity on social media platforms, let's remember that language is a bridge that connects people, cultures, and ideas. By adapting to the bilingual experience, these platforms can be more than just tools for communication; they can be platforms for unity, understanding, and celebration of our diverse linguistic tapestry.