Discussing Social Issues in Spanish-Speaking Countries

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Spanish-speaking countries have quite a few social issues in common. This lesson gives you the vocabulary you need to discuss those issues along with some useful expressions.

Common Social Issues

Do you want to be able to discuss social issues in Spanish? First, make sure to learn the term problemas sociales (proh-BLEH-mahs soh-see-AH-lehs), which literally translates to 'social problems'.

Spanish-speaking countries have some social issues in common, mostly due to their similar cultures. Also, the history of Latin American countries has a common history of colonization by the Spanish.To talk more about social issues of these countries, we'll talk to Dr. Cevallos, who is a sociologist.

Social Issues Vocabulary

First, let's learn a list of key social issues that are common to Spanish-speaking countries, except for the last one in the list, which is specific to Spain. Remember that in some areas of Spain the letter 'z' sounds like the English 'th'. Either sound will be understood in Latin America and Spain.

  • la desigualdad social (lah deh-see-gwahl-DAD soh-see-AHL): social inequality
  • el desempleo (ehl deh-sehm-PLEH-oh): unemployment
  • la fuga de cerebros (lah FOO-gah deh seh-REH-brohs): brain drain (the highly educated moving overseas)
  • la inmigración (lah een-mee-grah-see-OHN): immigration
  • la inseguridad (lah een-seh-goo-ree-DAD): lack of safety
  • el machismo (ehl mah-CHEES-moh): chauvinism
  • el narcotráfico (ehl nahr-koh-TRAH-fee-koh): drug dealing
  • la pobreza (lah poh-BREH-sah): poverty
  • la violencia de género (lah vee-oh-LEHN-seeah deh HEH-neh-roh): gender violence
  • el descontento de Cataluña (ehl dehs-kohn-TEHN-toh deh kah-tah-LOO-nyah): the Catalonia discontent

Translation: Gender violence, especially against women, is a serious social problem in Latin America and Spain.

Useful Expressions

Before we read some paragraphs, let's make sure you have the expressions you need to discuss the origin, the challenges, and the solutions, respectively:

  • el origen de los problemas sociales (ehl oh-REE-hen deh lohs proh-BLEH-mahs soh-see-AH-lehs) - the origins of social problems
  • el desafío que plantean los problemas sociales (ehl deh-sah-FEE-oh keh plahn-TEH-ahn lohs proh-BLEH-mahs soh-see-AH-lehs) - the challenges posed by social problems
  • las soluciones (lahs soh-loo-see-OH-nehs) - the solutions

Translation: The challenge that drug dealing poses is for several countries to work jointly in order to fight against this illegal business.


Now, let's see how both vocabulary and useful expressions are present Dr. Cevallos' speech about the origin of many social issues:


El origen de los problemas sociales se encuentra con frecuencia en la historia. (The origin of social issues is frequently in history.)

Por ejemplo, la desigualdad social en América Latina se remonta a la época de la colonización española en que la sociedad estaba dividida entre españoles e indígenas. (For example, social inequality in Latin America goes back to the Spanish colonization, in which the society was divided between Spaniards and indigenous people.)

Hoy, la desigualdad social tiene que ver con el estatus socio-económico de una persona. (Today, social inequality has to do with the socio-economic status of a person.)

Otros problemas como el desempleo, la inseguridad, la pobreza la inmigración tienen su origen en la distribución inequitativa de la riqueza y la falta de acceso a la educación. (Other problems, such as unemployment, lack of safety, poverty, and immigration have their origin in the inequity of wealth distribution and lack of access to education.)


Dr. Cevallos goes on to discuss some challenges posed by these issues and the possible solutions.

El desafío que plantean los problemas sociales es que impiden el verdadero desarrollo. (The challenge that social problems pose is that they impede real development.)

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