Whether you are planning to learn Spanish here in Denver, or in Spain or Latin America, you might not be aware that the Spanish you’re learning is not exactly the same Spanish that’s spoken around the world; there are variations depending on region and country.
These different ways of speaking the same language are called dialects. A dialect is a particular form of a language that is tied to a specific region or social group. Each dialect, while distinct, is not different enough to be its own language, so people from different regions or social groups would likely understand each other perfectly. Some examples of the different dialects are the Spanish spoken in Mexico, as compared to Chile, or Spain.
Even though people from these countries can understand each other, there still are differences within the language, which are helpful to be aware of if you’re going to talk to people from different Spanish-speaking cultures, or travel to various countries.
The dialect of Spanish spoken in Spain is known as castellano. It was the language brought over to the New World in the 16th century. As all languages naturally morph, change, and adapt to their surroundings, castellano changed into a number of different dialects that are now spoken in the North American & South American Spanish-speaking world.
Today, there are over 20 different dialects of Spanish spoken that emerged from castellano. When you learn Spanish, you’ll probably be learning one specific dialect, but it’s important to keep in mind the characteristics of the others. To help, here are some of the major differences between Latin American Spanish and Spanish in Spain (castellano).
Use of Vosotros
The first major difference between Spanish in Spain and Spanish spoken in many Latin American countries is how ustedes and vosotros are used. To address people as a group in Spain, you can use either vosotros or ustedes. Vosotros is more casual, while ustedes is reserved for the most formal of situations. However, the use of vosotros is completely absent in Latin America, with these Spanish speakers using the third-person plural form of ustedes in every situation; dropping the emphasis on formality.
Vos, the second-person singular pronoun, is used by some Latin Americans, particularly people in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Central America, and it’s used in parts of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile, too. This pronoun can be used as a replacement for the pronoun tú but it can also be used alongside tú in certain situations. While voseo is used in Latin America, it is not common in Spain.
Verb tenses are also a source of conflict between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish. To describe the same situation, a Spaniard might use the present perfect tense (Yo he comido or “I have eaten”), but someone in Latin America would probably use the simple past (Yo comí: “I ate”). Additionally, the construction ir + a + infinitive for future tense (“going to” in English) is preferred in Latin America, while Spanish speakers in Spain frequently conjugate the verb in future tense instead.
Variations in Accent and Pronunciation
The Spanish terms distinction, el seseo, and el ceceo are used to describe the differences in Spanish pronunciation, relating to how the letters “s,” “c”, and “z” are pronounced in the language. In distinction the letter “s” is pronounced distinctly from “c” and “z.” In seseo, however, all three letters are pronounced the same as the /s/ sound. Finally, in ceceo, all the letters are pronounced the same as /θ/, making a “th” sound.
The distinction style is by far the most popular pronunciation in Spain, especially in Northern Spain. However, all countries in Latin America use seseo pronunciation. The least common, but still present, ceceo is limited to a small region of Southern Spain, like the Andalusia region.
Just like with American and British English, there are differences in vocabulary from Spanish speaking country to Spanish speaking country. First, let’s look at transportation terms, which might be useful to you if you’re trying to get around in a new Spanish-speaking country. In Spain, a car is referred to as a coche, while in Latin American countries it can be called either carro or auto/automóvil. The term auto is used in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, but countries to the north of this will use carro.
And the verb “to drive” is also different from Spain to Latin American countries. To talk about driving a vehicle, Spain uses the verb conducir, but Latin American countries use manejar. However, in Spain, manejar means managing or administering something. In practice, you’ll likely be understood anywhere when a word is heard in context, but these vocabulary differences can be tricky or confusing in the real world!
To learn more about these sorts of vocabulary differences, check out other resources, like this one, that break down Spanish vocabulary by region.
In addition to being useful for communicating, learning the main differences between dialects also provides an interesting window into a region’s culture. There is always more to learn and discover about a language, and being aware of regional differences will help you if you’re looking to move, travel, or simply communicate with Spanish speakers wherever you might live.