OMG Obamacare’s Spanish-language site is all wrong! Or not.

The latest hyperventilation over Obamacare?  The Spanish-language version of the Web site is allegedly written in “Spanglish,” instead of “real” Spanish.

Except it’s not.

The first example many critics are pouncing on is the site’s use of the word “prima” to mean “premium.”  The critics note, correctly, that in Spanish the word “prima” means “female cousin.” And in fact it does.  It also means “insurance premium.”  (Those crafty Latinos, coming up with multiple definitions of the same word. What will they think of next?)

Latino medical worker, via Shutterstock

Latino medical worker, via Shutterstock

First, here’s how the Affordable Care Act Spanish-language site uses the word “prima,” meaning “premium.”  In this case, the site defines a “premium” as the amount you have to pay to your insurance company or medical plan. Pretty basic definition, but it works.


The critics includ the AP:

The website translates “premium” into “prima,” but that Spanish word is more commonly used to mean a female cousin, Plaza said. A more accurate translation, she said, would be “cuotas,” “couta mensual” or “costo annual.”

And Ezra Klein at the Washington Post:

The Web site, for instance, translates the word “premium” into “prima” — a word more typically used in Spanish to denote a female cousin. Veronica Plaza, a professor who teaches medical Spanish at the University of New Mexico, told ABC that the site should’ve used “cuotas,” ”couta mensual” or “costo annual.”

Well, the Royal Spanish Academy‘s official dictionary begs to differ with AP and Klein.  The Royal Spanish Academy is “the official royal institution responsible for overseeing the Spanish language.” So they might know a thing a two about the language.  Here’s their definition of pro”prima”: “The price the insured person pays the insurance company.”


And not that we need much additional proof, but here’s Univision using the word “prima” as well:


Now, you can haggle over regional dialects of various Spanish speakers in the United States, if you want to. But it seems rather petty. Though that’s exactly what AP did when confronted with their error, and the accurate definition of “prima” from the Royal Spanish Academy:


That’s nice for people in the southwest, but what about Spanish-speakers in the rest of America?

Remember, we are not an officially Spanish-speaking country, so we have no official version of the Spanish language to write in.  Thus, we have Mexican Spanish, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Panamanian and Argentine versions of the language – not to mention, Spanish from Spain – to name a few.  And while the languages are virtually the same, they’re not 100% the same.  Much in the same way that the English we speak in America is essentially the same thing they speak in the UK, though there are are differences, like the American use of the word “pants,” which in the UK means “underwear.” Or my personal favorite – the time I asked a flight attendant on Virgin Atlantic to return my “fanny pack” that she had stowed for take-off. Hilarity ensued on that one.

As for Spanish, they’ve got some funny regional differences as well.  For example, you might want to be careful when referring to the very large insects they have in Puerto Rico (a Chilean friend made that mistake while talking to a woman he’d just met).  Or when discussing sea shells (a Mexican man made that error when telling my Argentine friend that the shell on her belt just fell to the ground).  And if you know what’s good for you, you won’t use any word to say “grab” other than “agarrar.”

So which Spanish should the ACA Web site use? And more importantly, is it really fair to use this as the primary example of how the Spanish is supposedly “wrong” on the Spanish-language version of the Affordable Care Act Web site?

No it’s not fair at all.

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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