We all know that Spanish is spoken in Spain as well as Latin America. But what many people don’t realise when they start to learn Spanish is the vast difference between the two. I have been over this briefly in my Learning Spanish in Spain post, but this post will go into more depth about what actually makes the dialects of Spanish so different.
As a person who has learned Spanish to the point of C1 fluency (how) and travelled extensively both in Spain and South America, I feel that I am a good person to break down the differences in an unbiased way (without the ‘my Spanish is better than yours’ attitude that most Spanish speakers seem to be prone to.)
DISCLAIMER: This article is written based on my personal experience coupled with some research. While to my knowledge all of this information is correct, I cannot speak for everyone. Not all Spanish speakers, even from the same country, speak in exactly the same way. However, generally speaking, this is how Latin American Spanish differs from Spanish from Spain
Latin American Spanish is not all the same
The first thing to note is that there is not just one general ‘Latin American Spanish’. Each Latin American country has its own accent, its own slang, and basically makes its own rules. In any case, feel free to correct me if I am wrong about something. However, there are some things that almost every Latin American Spanish speaker has in common, which differs from the Spanish speaker from Spain.
Spanish in Latin America vs Spain
|Second person plural|| Latin Americans say ‘ustedes’ to use ‘you’ in the plural form, whether formal or informal situations.
E.g: Ustedes son mis mejores amigos./ You guys are my best friends.
| In informal situations, Spanish people will use and conjugate ‘vosotros’ to speak directly to a group of two or more people. They still use ‘usted’ for formal situations.
E.g: Vosotros queréis comer afuera hoy?/ Do you guys want to eat out today?
|Past tense|| Latin Americans use the past tense much like we do in English. Whether something happened 5 minutes or 5 years ago, they will use the past preterite form.
E.g: Hace cinco minutos rompí el cartón de leche./ Five minutes ago I broke the milk carton.
| In Spain, if something has happened in the same day, present perfect tense is used. If something happened before the present day, past preterite will be used.
E.g: Jorge me ha pegado al entrar a la clase./ Jorge hit me when class started.
|Pronunciation of ‘c’ and ‘z’|| In Latin America, the letter ‘c’ followed by ‘i’ or ‘e’ as well as the letter ‘z’ and the letter ‘s’ are all pronounced like the English ‘s’
E.g: cereza (cherry) = seresa
|In most parts of Spain, the letter ‘c’ when followed by ‘i’ or ‘e’, and the letter ‘z’ are pronounced like the English ‘th’ (phonetics: θ).
E.g Barcelona = Barthelona
Latin American Spanish Differences by country
- Vos: Instead of ‘tú’, Argentinians (as well as Uruguayans and some other Latin Americans) say ‘vos’. ‘Vos’ is conjugated the same way as ‘vosotros’, but with the ‘I’ omitted
E.g: ‘habláis’ (you guys speak) becomes ‘hablás’ (you speak).
- ‘Sh’ sound: where there is a ‘y’ or a ‘ll’, in Argentinian Spanish, this sounds like the English ‘sh’ (phonetics: ʃ).
E.g: ‘calle’(street) becomes ‘cashe’ and ‘yo’ (I) becomes ‘sho’.
- ‘Vuestro’: Peruvians, like other Latin Americans, generally use ‘ustedes’ form when talking to a group of people. However, they still use the possession pronoun ‘vuestro’ which stems from ‘vosotros’.
E.g: Este carro es vuestro = este carro es de ustedes.
- Formality: Colombians are either the most formal and polite people in the Spanish speaking world, or they just use ‘usted’ differently to everyone else. In some parts of Colombia, it is not uncommon to hear people using ‘usted’ to speak to their parents, children, brothers and sisters. Having said that, in other parts it is also common to use ‘vos’ in place of ‘tú’, but ‘tú’ is still widely used and understood. Because they have de-formalised ‘usted’, they tend to say la señora/el señor when addressing someone formally
- Cutting out consonants: The Chilean accent can be quite hard to understand for most outsiders, even native Spanish-speaking ones. The main thing that causes this difficulty is that they cut out as many consonants from their speech as possible so most words are shortened one way or another.
One of the biggest differences and the one thing that sometimes causes comprehension problems between Spain Spanish speakers and Latin American Spanish speakers is the different words that they use for the same thing.
This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a list of the main words used in Spain vs how they are used Latin America. Some of the words are used more commonly in one region, but can be understood anywhere, while others are region-specific only. Some words are different in every single country while others are widely used, with only one or two dialects deciding to use a different word.
In other words, there are so many Spanish words used in so many different ways that it can become one huge, confusing mess if you’re not careful. This list lets you know which words are used differently in Spain than they are in Latin America.
Words in Spain vs Latin America
|Pyjama||(el) pijama||(la) piyama|
|TV||La televisión||El televisor|
|Sock||(el) calcetín||(la) media|
Where it gets even more interesting (or confusing, whichever way you want to put it) is how the same words used in Spain, when used in Latin America can mean something totally different. Take a look at the examples:
Latin America usage
And vice versa:
So, should you learn Latin American Spanish or Spanish from Spain?
Personally, I have found the Spanish pronunciation in Spain much harder to master than Latin American Spanish. Another thing to note is that Latin American Spanish generally uses a lot more English borrow words and phrases than Spanish from Spain.
If your first or main language is English, I think that Latin American Spanish is easier to learn, simply because it is more similar to English phonetically and grammatically.
With all the differences there might be, Spanish is still mutually intelligible between practically anyone. Apart from the odd confusion and being mocked for speaking with a different accent, you can still have an easy conversation with any Spanish speaker, whether you learn Latin American or European Spanish. Which is kind of the point, right? To be able to communicate?
If you decide to learn Spanish from Spain, check out this post I wrote for more info.
If you decide to learn Spanish in Latin America, check out this great blog post I found.
Once you have decided what Spanish to learn, if you are still struggling with it, check out this post about how I learned a language fluently. Or this one about the best resources to learn a language online.
>Have you learned Spanish from Spain or Latin America, or are you Spanish or Latin American? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or if you have anything to add to this!