Fun and Frustration with the Spanish Language
Like other global languages, there are many different varieties of Spanish spoken throughout the world. While the general structure of the language doesn’t change too much from one country to the next, the accents and especially the slang can change dramatically. This can be extremely frustrating as a Spanish language learner. But it can also be quite fun if you think of yourself as a language investigator trying to get down to the bottom of things – or if you write a song about it:
Spanish Dialect Varieties
Spanish accents and vocabulary vary from region to region. In my opinion, there are six particularly distinct groupings: Castilian Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Caribbean Spanish, Central American, South American, and Rioplatense Spanish. Wikipedia has great explanations for each of these varieties so here I will just point out some of the most distinct features:
Castilian Spanish: In most areas of Spain, c and z (but not s!) are pronounced th. So gracias, which is pronounced ‘gra-see-as’ in Latin America, is ‘gra-thee-as’ in Spain. Another major difference is the use of vosotros for the third person plural (you all in English and ustedes in Latin America). Vosotros comes with a whole set of verb conjugations that are not used in any other part of the world.
Rioplatense: This is the Spanish spoken around the Rio de La Plata basin – mainly in Argentina and Uruguay. The main distinctive feature is the pronunciation of the y and the ll. These letters vary across all Spanishes but in most places are pronounced as an English y or j. In Rioplatense, however, the sound is either sh or zh like the s in the English word measure. There is also a surprising amount of vocabulary used only in Rioplatense – according to Wikipedia, about 9000 distinct words!
Other Latin American dialects: Differences throughout the rest of Latin America include the more nasal sound of Mexican Spanish, dropping the s and d at the end of words in Caribbean Spanish, and the use of the pronoun vos instead of tú in Rioplatense and many parts of Central America.
Spanish Slang and Vocabulary Varieties
The video above gives a wonderful sample of just some of the thousands of Spanish slang varieties. Having lived in Mexico, Spain, and Peru, I have had to learn and unlearn many slang terms and phrases. One usage might make me look pretty cool in one country but like a complete fool in the next! Speaking of cool, here is a small selection of Spanish words used for cool:
Chévere (Latin America), chido (Mexico), padre (Mexico), guay (Spain), genial (Spain), bacán (South America), mostro (Peru), bárbaro (Rioplatense).
There are also non-slang vocabulary differences between countries. For example to drive is manejar in most Latin American countries but conducir in Spain, and car is coche in Spain but can be carro, auto, or máquina depending on what part of Latin America you’re in. Some vocabulary differences can be attributed to the influence of indigenous languages in the region. For example, avocado is aguacate in most places but in and around Peru it’s palta which comes from Quechua.
Finally, there are many anglicisms making their way into the Spanish language. Especially in Latin America, it’s not uncommon to hear English words such as laptop, bar, blog, súper, and OK. It’s also not uncommon to hear Spanish words that have been derived from English such as fútbol and huachimán (watchman) and others that are borrowed slightly incorrectly such as un parking for a parking lot and footing for jogging. A few English words have replaced Spanish words which can sometimes be confusing for Spanish children like the infamous Mafalda:
The internet is full of blog posts and websites dedicated to country-specific slang so I recommend doing some searching before traveling. But most of this stuff is learned through exposure so keep an open mind and the words will come to you.