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There is Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish, but what’s the difference? More than you think! From grammar and vocabulary to pronunciation, here are the major differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and Latin American Spanish that you probably didn’t know about.
Want to learn Spanish before going to Latin America? It’s important to know that there are differences between European Spanish and the Spanish spoken in Latin America. To help me explain the nuances and differences between Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish, I’ve asked my lovely friends May and Jim from Spanish and Go, experts in the Spanish language, to share their knowledge on the subject. If you’re interested in learning European or Latin American Spanish, check out my Intrepid Spanish course which focuses on teaching Spanish through real-world practical conversations for travellers.
What is the correct term for the different types of Spanish?
The Spanish spoken in Spain is called Castilian. The term actually refers to the province of Castile located in central Spain where it is believed that the Spanish language originated from. In Spain, Castilian Spanish is called Castellano, and the term is often used synonymously with “Spanish language”.
For those who speak Spanish in Latin America, this is simply referred to as Latin American Spanish. Easy!
Where is Latin American Spanish spoken?
Way back in the 15th-century, the Spanish conquistadors began to colonize the Americas to spread the word of god and gather precious metals. With their arrival came their language, Spanish, which began to spread all over the region.
Spanish is now spoken in some 16 countries in the Americas and on three islands in the Caribbean. In the Americas, Spanish is spoken in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Then, in the Caribbean, Spanish is spoken in Cuba, The Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
Why are there different kinds of Spanish?
Much like how the Afrikaans evolved from Dutch after the Dutch colonised South Africa, and how Americans say ‘Fall’ while British English speakers still say ‘Autumn’, so too are their differences between Castilian and the Spanish which evolved in Latin America.
A linguist called Marckwardt calls this process the “colonial lag”, where the current state of a language spoken in new colonies does not evolvein the same way as the language in its country of origin.
So, the question is…
How different is Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish?
There are a few notable differences between European/Castilian and Latin American Spanish. This includes the use of niceties such as when to use the formal “you,”, variations in pronunciation, differences in slang, and the use of vosotros (you – plural). Which we will dive into a little bit later.
Besides the very obvious differences, the Spanish language stays practically the same all over the world thanks to the RAE – La Real Academia de la Lengua Española (The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language) – which is Spain’s official institution in charge of promoting linguistic unity and to ensure the stability of the Spanish language within all territories where Spanish is spoken. Pretty cool, huh?
How well do European Spanish and Latin American Spanish speakers understand each other?
To understand the differences that exist between Castilian and Latin American Spanish, think of anAmerican speaking English with a Brit, Irish, an Australian. There are some differences, sure, but nothing major.The same thing happens when someone from Spain visits Latin America or when someone from Argentina goes to Spain.
Aside from the use of slang and certain Spanish idioms, essentially all variations of Spanish are mutually understood worldwide.
However, it can be tricky to grasp the speed and intonation of the different accents at first, but after a few days tyou’ll have no trouble understanding each other.
This happened to May and Jim in Puerto Rico. May was born and raised in Mexico, and Jim speak Mexican Spanish fluently.
The first two or three days we spent on the island, Puerto Rican, the Spanish spoken there sounded like a whole new language. Boricuas (or Puerto Ricans) speak fast!
But after a couple of days we got used to the sounds and rhythm of Puerto Rican Spanish. We spent over a month around the island and we never had any problems communicating with the locals.
Some vocabulary was different, but it was easy to understand the meaning of most new words by context. For example, driving around the island we often saw signs of “Gomeras”. In Mexico, a “goma” is an eraser or bubble gum, so seeing “Gomeras” everywhere was odd until we noticed that there was always a bunch of car tires under the signs. So, we learned that “Gomera” in Puerto Rico is what in Mexico we call “Llantera”, a place where you can get your car’s tires changed.(Video) Spainish Differences! Spain spanish vs Latin American spanish (Argentina, Mexico, Spain)
If, for example, you’re learning Colombian Spanish and want to visit another Spanish-speaking country, doing a little research ahead of time will do wonders. Look up local slang and find any major vocabulary differences, this will help you hit the ground running once you arrive.
You’ll be relieved to know that the grammar generally stays the same for all Spanish-speaking countries.
Want to have fun whilst learning European Spanish, Latin American Spanish or Argentinian Spanish? Struggling to find decent Spanish language resources available? I recommend getting uTalk. Available as a desktop site and app, uTalk is awesome for learning key words and phrases in Spanish (either in European, Latin American, or Argentinian Spanish), especially if you want to use it for travel purposes. It’s great for beginners getting started in a language and invaluable for intermediates looking to fill in gaps in their vocabulary and pronunciation.
What I love most about uTalk is that you can jump around their extensive library of topics and choose what you want to learn, when you want, and at your own pace. Because I believe in uTalk so much, I reached out to them and we’ve teamed up to offer you an exclusive 30% OFF reader discount across all of uTalk’s 140 languages! This offer isn’t available anywhere else! Click here to claim your exclusive 30% discount in European Spanish, Latin American Spanish here,and Argentinian Spanish here.
What are the main differences between the Castilian and Latin American Spanish?
Here are the top 7 differences between Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish.
1. Vosotros / Ustedes
Spaniards (i.e people from Spain) use the word ‘vosotros’ (you – plural) when addressing a group of people in a casual setting. For example, when speaking to a group of friends in Spain you might say ‘Vosotros sois mis mejores amigos.’ Whereas in Latin America you would say ‘Ustedes son mis mejores amigos.’ (You all are my best friends).
2. Tú / Vos
‘Vos’ (you – singular) is used predominantly in Argentina and Uruguay, but it’s also present in other Latin American Countries like Bolivia, Chile and Guatemala.
Spaniards, Mexicans and other Latin American’s use ‘tú’ when talking to a friend or when addressing someone informally. If you want to ask ‘¿Tú quieres ir a la fiesta?’ (Do you want to go to the party?) in some parts of Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, and Guatemala you would need to use ‘vos’, ‘¿Vos querés ir a la fiesta?’
When and How to Use Usted in Spanish [Tú vs Usted / Informal vs Formal]
3. Past perfect / Simple past
In European/Castilian Spanish it’s more common to hear people using the past perfect tense when describing recent actions, for example, ‘Me he quedado en casa hoy’ (I stayed home today). However, in Latin America, the simple past tense is preferred in these kinds of situations, so it would be ‘Me quedé en casa hoy’.
The main and biggest differences between European/Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish and all the countries within it are related to vocabulary.
Here are a few of the most common words that are more commonly used in European/Castilian Spanish and their equivalents in Latin American Spanish.
- Móvil – Celular – (Mobile phone)
- Ordenador – Computadora (Computer)
- Automovil – Carro o Coche (Car)
- Torta – Pastel (Cake)
- Zumo – Jugo (Juice)
- Patata – papa (Potato)
- Gafas – Lentes (Glasses)
5. Pronounce z and c sound like ‘th’
Another major difference between Spanish in Spain and Latin American Spanish is the pronunciation of the letter ‘z’. For most Spaniards, ‘z’ (when it comes before any vowel) is pronounced like ‘th’ in English. In Latin American Spanish ‘z’ is always pronounced like an ‘s’.
Something similar happens with the letter ‘c’ in Spain Spanish. When there’s a ‘c’ before an ‘i’ or an ‘e’, the sound of the letter ‘c’ changes to the same ‘th’ sound in English. For example, in Spain the phrase ‘Cinco cervezas’ (five beers) would be pronounced ‘thin-co ther-ve-thas’ but in Latin America, you’d hear ‘sin-coser-ve-sas’.
6. PronounceLl like ‘sh’
Argentinians pronounce. ‘ll’ like the ‘sh’ sound in English. So, the word ‘lloviendo’ (raining) in Argentina sounds more like ‘/sho-vien-do/’
7. Dropping final sounds
Another big difference between the pronunciation of Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish is the latter often drops the letter ‘s’ from some words. This is especially true when it comes at the end of the word. For example, in Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico the word ‘vamos’ (let’s go/we go) sounds more like ‘vamo’.
Another sound they tend to drop in some Latin American countries is the letter ‘d’ in the last syllable of a word. So, instead of ‘Coco rallado’ (shredded coconut), they say ‘Coco rallao’.
Dropping sounds at the end of words can be heard in specific parts on Spain too but it is far more noticeable in the Caribbean and some countries in South America.
How important it is to know Spanish when travelling around Latin America?
Do the locals speak English in Latin America? Yes, but…some English is spoken in areas where there is a lot of tourism. If you want to immerse yourself in the true culture of the places you visit, you have to at least know the basics of Spanish.
In smaller cities and towns it can be hard to find people who speak English, so it pays to speak the language. You’ll certainly earn more respect from the locals if you at least try. Make sure you get my free Latin American Spanish phrase guide.
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Over to you!
Which of these differences between Castilian and Latin American Spanish surprised you the most? Are you planning a trip to Latin America or Spain?Let me know using thecomments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
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What are the differences between the Spanish of Spain and the Spanish of Latin America? ›
One of the major differences between Latin American Spanish and the Spanish spoken in Spain is vosotros. Vosotros is a way to say “you all”, but it's exclusively used in Spain. All across Latin America, people use ustedes instead. And keep in mind, the form of the verb changes, too.Is there a difference between Latin American and Spanish? ›
There are a few notable differences between European/Castilian and Latin American Spanish. This includes the use of niceties such as when to use the formal “you,”, variations in pronunciation, differences in slang, and the use of vosotros (you – plural).What is the difference between Latin American Spanish and Spain Spanish Rosetta Stone? ›
The language used in the two products differs in spelling, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Although each region offers a variety of different accents, we've chosen an accent for each (Latin America and Spain) that is widely comprehensible.What is the difference between types of Spanish? ›
The main differences between the Spanish dialects and varieties are the pronunciation and the vocabulary. This means that the difference exists mainly in spoken language because Spanish grammar, especially in writing, is identical across Spanish-speaking countries.What were two major differences between Spanish colonization and English colonization of the Americas? ›
France and Spain, for instance, were governed by autocratic sovereigns whose rule was absolute; their colonists went to America as servants of the Crown. The English colonists, on the other hand, enjoyed far more freedom and were able to govern themselves as long as they followed English law and were loyal to the king.Why is Spanish different in Spain? ›
In Spain, people don't call the language español because there are other languages like Catalan (or Valencian), Galician and Basque which are spoken in Spain and are also considered Spanish languages.Why does Spain Spanish have a lisp? ›
The story goes like this: a medieval king of Spain spoke with a lisp. Wanting to imitate royalty, courtiers picked it up. The resulting th sound wormed its way into the Spanish language.Is Latin American Spanish easier than Spain Spanish? ›
The Spanish language breaks down into two main groups: Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish. If you're a beginner, Central and South American Spanish is generally easier to learn than Spain Spanish (also known as Castellano).What is the hardest Spanish to learn? ›
Which Spanish is hardest to understand? Chile, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Andalusia (Spain) are a few of the places considered to speak more difficult Spanish.Which Spanish is better to learn Spain or Latin America? ›
The main advice is that if you are going to use Spanish in Europe, you should learn Spanish from Spain, and the opposite for Latin America. Some writers say that Latin American Spanish is easier for beginners, even some regions/countries within America (e.g. Central America, Colombia, Ecuador) are easier than others.
What is the difference between Spanish and Mexican Spanish? ›
There are differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and other nuances, but essentially the official Spanish in Mexico is the same as the Spanish in Spain and throughout most of the world. It has a distinctly Mexican flavor to it today, of course, but it hardly counts as a separate dialect or language on its own.What are the 3 accent rules in Spanish? ›
Spanish accents (tildes) can only be written over the five vowels (a, e, i, o, u), and the accent is written from lower left to upper right: á, é, í, ó, ú. In Spanish, an accent mark over one vowel of some word, indicates that the vowel is stressed.What are the 3 types of Spanish? ›
- US Spanish.
- Castilian Spanish.
- Andalusian Spanish.
- Murcian Spanish.
- Canarian Spanish.
- Caribbean Spanish.
- Rioplatense Spanish.
- Equatoguinean Spanish.
In this section, I am referring to Spanish spoken in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia. These dialects are often considered easier to understand, and the Colombian accent has been called the “most neutral Spanish accent.” That's because in this region, people speak Spanish more slowly and don't cut words.What were 2 reasons why the Spanish colonized the Americas? ›
Core historical themes. Motivations for colonization: Spain's colonization goals were to extract gold and silver from the Americas, to stimulate the Spanish economy and make Spain a more powerful country. Spain also aimed to convert Native Americans to Christianity.What were the main differences between colonies? ›
New England had craftsmen skilled in shipbuilding. The Mid-Atlantic had a workforce of farmers, fishermen, and merchants. The Southern Colonies were mostly agricultural with few cities and limited schools. New England's economy at first specialized in nautical equipment.What are some key differences between Spanish and English? ›
Perhaps the greatest difference between English and Spanish is that Spanish has only five vowel sounds while English has more than 14, depending on regional dialects. This is the reason Spanish speakers have difficulty differentiating between vowel phonemes in words like seat and sit.Why do Spanish pronounce C as the? ›
Ceceo is that sound English speakers identify as the Spanish lisp. Ceceo takes place when the letters s, c (before e and i) and z are pronounced using the inter-dental fricative which can be identified as the “th” English sound (as in “thing”). It finds its purpose in words such as casa (house) and caza (hunt).Why do they say Barthelona? ›
The reason why people in Barcelona pronounce it "Barselona" is that they speak Catalan, not Castillian. Catalan does not have the "c" pronounced as "th".What is the rare accent in Spain? ›
Another dialect found in the southern region of Spain in an autonomous community called Murcia is Murcian. Because it is so similar to Andalusian Spanish, Murcian is a rarely used dialect. In fact, unless you travel to this specific community, you are very unlikely to encounter anyone using this dialect.
What is the purest form of Spanish? ›
Known as the “purest” form of Spanish, the Castilian accent specifically stems from Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla Leon, two autonomous communities in Spain; however, the Castilian accent is one that is spoken by those who live throughout Spain.What is Mexican Spanish called? ›
Now, what language does Mexico speak? This style of Spanish is referred to as Latin American Spanish or Mexican Spanish. It's most often spoken in Central and South America.Where is the purest Spanish spoken? ›
If you're looking to learn the purest Spanish, Mexico is the place to go. It has all the grammar conventions from the Spaniards, but with the clear enunciation of indigenous languages.Where is the clearest Spanish spoken? ›
Two countries which are recognized for a clearly spoken, standardized accent are Colombia and Costa Rica; while there are indigenous languages spoken by some citizens, the primary language is Spanish.What is the hardest Spanish word? ›
Ronronear or “to purr” may be one of the most difficult verbs to pronounce in Spanish. It includes two hard r sounds, one soft r, and one vowel pair, which in this case is known as hiatus in Spanish.Which accent of Spanish to learn? ›
It all depends on your interests and future plans. If you want to travel or study in Spain, focus on the Castilian standard. If your interests lie in Latin America, opt for the Mexican or Guatemalan dialect of Spanish.Can Mexicans and Spanish people understand each other? ›
The Spanish vs Mexican debate is an interesting way of understanding how languages evolve and how they stay the same. Because it's amazing that after 500 years of being apart, Mexicans and Spaniards can still understand each other without any trouble.What is the difference between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish? ›
The biggest distinction between Spanish spoken in Spain or the EU and Spanish spoken in Latin America is the pronunciation of the Z and C (before I or E). These two letters are pronounced as the English sound of S in Latin America and as a TH sound in Spain.What 3 letters are not in the Spanish alphabet? ›
In 2010, the Royal Spanish Academy officially removed two letters (ch and ll) from the alphabet, making it 27 letters instead of 29. Fortunately for English speakers, the official Spanish alphabet now only has the one additional letter that does not appear in the English alphabet: ñ.What is the nose rule in Spanish? ›
The 'nose' rule (for words without an accent)
NOSE has vowels, n and s. If a word is a nose word then it ends in a vowel, n or s. You stress the penultimate syllable. There aren't many words in Spanish that end in other consonants except for foreign words such as 'internet'.
Which Spanish has the best accent? ›
In general discussion, 'best' usually means an accent that is clearly spoken, with proper annunciation, and easily understood across the Spanish-speaking world. Some people claim that for these reasons, Colombia has the best Spanish accent. Others say that Peru and Ecuador have the best Spanish accent.Does Spanish have 3 genders? ›
Spanish has two grammatical genders, which are known as "masculine" and "feminine". Just as a word can be singular or plural, it can also be masculine or feminine. Sometimes it is obvious which gender a word is, such as the words for man and woman. Other times, it may seem arbitrary.What are the 5 dialects of Spanish? ›
Even in Spain, there are five major dialects in the country: Castilian, Galician, Asturian, Basque, and Catalan. Of these, Castilian is the most common with 72% of the people speaking this dialect.What are the 2 types of Spanish? ›
Due to the heaviness of the accents, even native Spanish-speaker sometimes can't understand each other. There are two main categories of Spanish. Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish.What is the fastest Spanish accent? ›
Chile. Chilean Spanish is so fast and distinctive that even native Spanish speakers have trouble understanding it. (Yikes!) Chileans are speed demons when it comes to speaking, so fair warning.Which country speaks slow Spanish? ›
Colombians would say that “Colombian Spanish” is the clearest of all Latin Spanish-speaking countries. Due to its slow pace and cautious spoken word, it is easy to understand.Why is Dominican Spanish different? ›
The distinct language of the Dominican Republic is due to its indigenous Indio, African, Spanish, and American influences. The Spanish spoken in the Dominican Republic has its own accent, vocabulary, and colloquial expressions. Dominicans are also known for speaking fast and loudly.Is it better to learn Spain Spanish or Latin American Spanish? ›
Depending on whether you expect to spend more time with Latin Americans or Spaniards, you can start with either one. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter. All varieties are mutually intelligible. And as you progress, you will naturally learn more of some varieties based on the Spanish you hear.What is the easiest Spanish accent to understand? ›
In this section, I am referring to Spanish spoken in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia. These dialects are often considered easier to understand, and the Colombian accent has been called the “most neutral Spanish accent.” That's because in this region, people speak Spanish more slowly and don't cut words.What is the easiest version of Spanish to learn? ›
There isn't one version of Spanish that is easier or harder to learn than another. While the accents and dialects vary from place to place, you can still understand most of what people are saying, regardless of which Spanish you've learnt.
What is the most difficult to learn Spanish? ›
- Slang and Regionalisms. ...
- Gendered Words. ...
- False Friends. ...
- Por y Para. ...
- Irregular Verbs. ...
- All The Tenses. ...
- The R and J and G Sounds. ...
- Understanding Natives.