Spanish is the official language in 21 countries, making it a very popular choice for travellers to learn!
If you’re planning a trip to a Spanish speaking country, the first thing you need to know is that Spanish isn’t the same worldwide. The accent, pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary varies from one country to another.
So is Latin American Spanish different from the Spanish spoken in Spain?
Yes! And there’s not just one version of Spanish in Spain, and another one in Latin America.
Every region of every Spanish speaking country has its own accent and regional slang.
So, would a Mexican be understood in Spain or Argentina?
Absolutely. Although the Spanish language varies just like English varies slightly from England to the US, and from Ireland to Australia.
For example, depending on where they’re from, Spanish speakers may have different words for beer. Depending on where you are in the world, beer can be caña, cerveza, chela, largato or birra. But at the end of the day, no matter where they come from, Spanish speakers will understand each other perfectly as they chat over pint!
Now, let’s have a look at the major pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary differences between Latin American Spanish and Spanish spoken in Spain.
3 key differences between Latin American Spanish and the Spanish you’ll hear in Spain
1. Spanish in Latin America vs Spain: accent and pronunciation differences
There are many accent variations in the Spanish speaking world. Even within the same country, the pronunciation of certain letters can be very different.
Z and C
In most of Spain, z and a c before e and i are pronounced like the English ‘th’ sound. But in Latin America, the Canary Islands and some parts of southern Spain, both letters are pronounced like an ‘s’.
In Chile or southern Spain, the letter s is not always pronounced. Instead, it is a rather soft, almost inaudible, grasping sound.
For example: you might hear “¡graciah!” instead of ¡gracias!
LL and Y
In Argentina and Uruguay, the letters ll andy are pronounced like the English sound ‘sh’. While in other countries, it generally sounds like the English ‘y’.
For example: when pronounced by an Argentinian or an Uruguayan, me llamo (my name is) would become “me shamo” and yo (I) sounds like “sho”.
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2. Spanish in Latin America vs Spain: grammar differences
Vosotros vs ustedes
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. Let’s have a look at some examples:
- Someone from Spain: “¿Vosotros sois amigos? ¿Dónde os conocisteis?”
- Someone from Bolivia: “¿Ustedes son amigos? ¿Dónde se conocieron?”
Both sentences mean, “Are you all friends? Where did you meet?”, but, as you can see, the verb form changes with each pronoun.
Ustedes is used in Spain too, but it is reserved for formal situations. If you’re with clients at work, for example, you would say:
|¿Quieren [ustedes] algo de comer?|
|Do you all want something to eat?|
Tú / usted / vos
In Spanish, there are three singular forms of “you” — tú, vos and usted.
- Usted is only used in very formal situations in Spain. But in Latin America, usted is much more commonly heard. And there are some countries like Colombia, where usted is used instead of tú.
- In Spain, tú has become more and more common and it is acceptable in most conversations. In Latin America, tú is mainly used in informal situations.
- Vos is mainly used in Argentina, Uruguay and some parts in Central America.
In Latin America and in some areas of northern Spain, the preterite is commonly used to talk about past events, whether it happened today or yesterday, much like the Simple Past in English, to talk about past events.
|Hoy salí pronto de casa. / Ayer salí pronto de casa.|
|Today I left my house early. / Yesterday I left my house early.|
But in most of Spain, if something happened today, you use the present perfect (pretérito perfecto). You only use the preterite if something happened before the present day.
For example :
- Hoy he trabajado mucho. / Ayer trabajé mucho.
I have worked a lot today. / I worked a lot yesterday.
3. Spain vs Latin America: vocabulary variations
Variations in vocabulary provide endless amusement!
Just like how Americans say flip-flops, Australians say thongs and New Zealanders say jandals, these small differences are the fun parts of learning about different cultures.
Let’s take the word for “car” in Spanish as an example:
- In Spain, you would say coche.
- In Latin American, you would say carro or auto.
While we’re here, let’s look at the Spanish for “bus”:
- In most countries, you would say autobús.
- In Argentina, you would say colectivo.
- In Cuba, Dominican Republic or Canary Islands you call it a guagua.
- In Mexico, it’s called a camión (But everywhere else, called camión means “truck”).
Confused yet?! We’re not surprised.
Let’s power through with the word “computer”:
- In Spain, it’s an ordenador.
- In Latin American Spanish, it’s called a computador/computadora.
Next up, the word for “potato”:
- In Spain, it’s patata.
- In Latin American Spanish, it’s papa.
We’re almost there! Let’s look at “glasses”:
- In Spain, they’re called gafas.
- In Latin American Spanish, they’re anteojos or lentes.
And we’ve saved the most important one for last, “beer”:
- In Spain and Cuba, you say cerveza.
- In Argentina and Venezuela, you say birra.
- In Peru, Mexico and Chile, you say chela.
- In Colombia, you say pola.
Spanish spoken in Latin America vs Spain: which should you learn?
So, which Spanish should you learn?
We recommend focusing on the country you are most interested in, the variety of Spanish spoken by your friends, or the region you plan on visiting. Sticking with one variety will help you avoid any confusion!
But one thing is for sure – whatever variety of Spanish you learn, you will be understood all over the Spanish speaking world.
And don’t be discouraged if you’re having trouble understanding an accent at the beginning. Even native speakers from different parts of the same country can find it difficult to understand each other.
Here at Busuu, the award-winning language-learning app, we teach the Spanish spoken in Spain – but you can practise any version of Spanish with our community of native Spanish speakers from around the world.
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