The Differences in Spanish Across the World

Deciding to learn Spanish is a great decision for many reasons. Not least of those is that the language is spoken in over 20 different countries, on continents as different as Europe, America, and Africa. For example, did you know that in Equatorial Guinea 74% of the population speaks Spanish natively, under the name of Equatoguinean Spanish?

In many of these countries where Spanish is spoken, the language is the same, but great differences exist in the day-to-day use of the language. In some places, the dialects vary vastly from each other to the border of being mutually unintelligible. These differences not only occur between European Spanish and America but also between the different Hispanic American countries. And they are especially noticeable in phonetics – for example, in the pronunciation of letter c, in intonation which produces various accents, and vocabulary.

Different countries, different accents and even vocabulary

There are various accents that make Spanish sound very different from country to country. It is a very different experience to listen to somebody with the accent and intonation of an Argentine than to a Spaniard from Madrid. The Spanish of Nicaragua is also different from that of Chile or Bolivia. They change accents, tones, words. The differences are probably more pronounced for people who speak a degree of Spanish themselves. From the video below, you can see various native Spanish-speakers struggle imitating each other’s accents which they find funny and puzzling.

But the differences don’t stop at simply accents. There are a whole series of expressions that vary according to the region of Spain or the Spanish-speaking country in which the person is. The bus is called in Argentina and Ecuador, “colectivo”, and “autobús” in Barcelona, ​​but in the Canaries Islands they call it “guagua”. A waiter is called “mesero” in Mexico or “camarero” in Spain. Work is called “trabajo” in Spain and “laburo” in Argentina. The list goes on and on.

But there are also many expressions that are used differently depending on the country or location where you happen to be. For example, in Spain, “irse de fiesta” is said when you are going away to enjoy to a celebration, whereas in Latin America the expression “irse de parranda” is used. When you do not have more money in Spain the expression is “estar sin blanca” but in Argentina, they say “estar sin un mango” or “estar en la lona” in Venezuela. A thin portion of meat for cooking is called in Spain “filete” or “bistec” while in Uruguay it is a “bifé”. Children in Mexico are “chavos” and in Bolivia “changos”, in Spain “niños” or “chavales”.

For historical reasons, pronunciation can also be different

Another important difference is the pronunciation of c and z as if they were an s in Latin America. This is fundamentally due to the fact that at the time of the colonisation of the Americas there were already two forms of Castilian speaking: one in the North that was centred around Madrid and the other in the South, whose centre was Seville. The issue is that the z and c in Seville were pronounced similar to the regular s sound and it was from there that the first settlers who came to America set sail from and because of that, their way of speaking triumphed.

Another difference occurs in personal pronouns. In countries like Argentina and Uruguay, they use vos to address a person, while in Spain mostly tu is used. The reason for this is that when the Spanish arrived in America in the fifteenth century, vos was the more common pronoun, and it has remained in those two countries until today. Even though, in Spain itself, vos fell out of favour in the sixteenth century.

Whichever form of Spanish you learn, it opens a door to the Spanish-speaking world

Spanish is a passport for understanding in the various Spanish-speaking countries around the world. Due to its wide geographical stretch, various forms of the language have cropped up – each in response to the specific history and culture of the area where it’s spoken. Because of the differences, but also because of the wide similarities, learning Spanish is always a challenge for the student. But, with the right base, no matter the country where you find yourself at, you can always understand the locals and learn those words that are used in that country. Thanks to Spanish you will be able to understand and speak with more than 500 million people around the world, regardless of where they come from, the different meanings of some words, or their accent. That’s a great reason for learning and enjoying this marvellous language.

This article was written by Marta E – our Spanish teacher in Barcelona. Sign up for private Spanish lessons with her below.