Cole had expressed interest in recording a Spanish album for nearly a decade but her label Capitol rejected her pitch and told her "the timing wasn't right". David Foster, with whom she had previously worked with on Unforgettable... with Love (1991), encouraged to attempt to record the album again. Cole cited Salvadoran nurse Esther as one of the primary influences for the recording of the album. Cole received a kidney transplant from Esther's niece in 2009 and referred to her connection with the nurse as causing her to be "drawn even more to Latin people, Latin programs". She added her connection to the Salvadoran family led her to "feel like [she's] part Latino now" and "(made) the desire to make this record become even stronger".
Weary of comparisons to her father's 1958 Spanish album Cole Español, Cole described her album as "not [being] a tribute to my father as much as it is a tribute to Latin music because of my father". During the recording of the album, Pérez served as Cole's language coach. Cole said "Black people and Hispanic people have the same kind of feel for passion, for music, for fun, for heart." She expressed a love for language by listing "I love French ... I love Portuguese, I love Italiano[,]" but emphasized that "for [her] right now is Español".
In the recording sessions, Pérez translated the lyrics into English to allow Cole to capture the emotions of the songs. Cole recalled on the first days of recording that she cried as "the translation of these Spanish lyrics is like poetry." When listening to the album, she found that "[she] liked [her]self singing in Spanish". She compared the recording process to that of Unforgettable... with Love as it allowed her to step out of her comfort zone to create what she viewed as art.
Natalie Cole en Español received generally favorable reviews from music critics. Andy Kellman of AllMusic described the album as not being "a mere throwback to a brief phase in Nat's career". Kellman called it "a likable diversion from her norm" and commended her for using zest to make up for her lack of fluency.JazzTimes' Christopher Loudon commended Cole's "deeper emotional connection to the lyrics" in comparison to her father's Spanish albums. Loudon praised the album as "all slickly grand-scale, yet it works satisfyingly well".Soultracks' Justin Kantor wrote that the album is "a polished set largely comprised of baladas romanticas with sweeping orchestration and spicy, yet decidedly controlled, vocal performances". Kantor found certain songs required "a tad more rhythmic creativity and free-spirited singing", but recommended the overall product to her fans.