In the age of exploration, many people would learn a language through first-hand exposure, traveling to different countries and learning the language through practice and tutoring. Through that, they would be able to learn the language and the implicit regional qualities therein.
Spanish is a very widely spoken language, a fact that is obvious and undeniable. Spanish is not only a language of the United Nations, but also has over 470 million speakers of Spanish worldwide.
Learning Spanish increasingly becomes more important in the new day-to-day.
And if you’re reading this, you’re either interested in learning Spanish, or you’re interested in applying it to your everyday life.
Part of learning Spanish in a real and meaningful way is coming to understand just how widely it can vary. If you’re serious about learning Spanish, 123 Spanish Tutor offers tutors from various walks of life for your Spanish learning needs.
To paint a clearer picture of Spanish in its many incarnations, let us first delve into Spanish at large.
It is important to note that the Spanish language is incredibly varied because Spanish is spoken as an official language of 20 different countries (not counting Puerto Rico, which is technically a territory of the United States, but also speaks Spanish as its language de jure).
The Spanish from Spain differs from the Spanish of Argentina, or the Spanish of Mexico, or the versions of Spanish in any other country.
It is also worth pointing out that the Spanish of one country has differences in and of itself based on region.
It’s exactly the same as English in this respect.
Consider that the United States’ dialect of English is different from the United Kingdom’s, or Australia’s… and then further consider the regional accents of the U.S., like the Boston accent, or the New York accent, or the New Orleans accent, or the Midwest accent, or the Southern drawl.
Likewise, if you examine Spain’s accents, you would find madrileño the Madrid accent, the Barcelona accent which may mix Catalan, the Andalusian accent of Southern Spain, the mix of English and Spanish in Gibraltar, or the isleñoaccent of the Canary Islands.
This is not to say that the dialects of Spanish are complete gibberish to one another; someone from Spain can understand someone from Mexico, even if the accent or the word choice throws them off.
In most dictionaries that are labeled “Pan-Hispanic”, regional words are marked.
For instance, there are about three different words for “car” depending on the region. It is often Spain and Mexico favor el coche, while the majority of Latin America favors el carro. But in the Cono Sur or “South Cone” (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay), you will likely hear el auto. These words are not complete unknowns for Spanish-speakers; el coche used to mean “a stagecoach”, el carro used to mean “a cart” or “chariot”, and el auto is a shortened form of el automóvil “automobile”.
Words like “dude” or “awesome”, which are used with frequency in most languages, have regional variances in Spanish. Likewise, there are certain verbs that are particular to certain countries, like Spain’s flipar meaning “to flip out”, or cachar which means “to catch” or “to understand” in many Latin American countries.
For native-speakers of Spanish in the age of media and the internet, it becomes very easy to come across different regionalisms and learn them, perhaps not for the sake of using them but to recognize them.
Spanish is like English in that certain words, certain expressions, or certain linguistic inventions can characterize the region or the country in which they are spoken. But the overarching connections of Spanish lie in the grammar which is extremely uniform, while the spoken accent and the regional dialect is what differs.
So, let’s examine some of the more iconic variations of Spanish and see how they differ on a more fundamental level.
Spain – The Origin
It may seem strange to refer to the dialect of Spain as “Spain’s Spanish”, but it does help when the two terms for Spanish being español (literally, “from Spain”) and castellano (literally, “from Castile”)
The most obvious difference in Spain’s version of Spanish is the use of thevosotros.
In most U.S. textbooks on Spanish, the vosotros conjugations of verbs are typically kept apart from the others. I can’t tell you how many teachers had told me not to worry about vosotros because it was “just something that Spain does”. In a way, that’s absolutely true… But if you plan to work or study in Spain, that makes learning vosotros a priority.
In older Spanish, vos was used as a polite way to address someone; Vuestra Merced which means something like “Your Grace” or “Your Lordship” was a title given to people on polite terms while tú was used for social equals or social inferiors. The singular vos also had a plural; vosotros (or vosotras for exclusively female groups); made up of vos + otros “you + others”. The singular vos faded into the stuff of fairy tale language, as Vuestra Merced and its plural Vuestras Mercedes morphed into Usted and Ustedes.
But the plural, vosotros, remained. And in application, it became the plural oftú. In that way, vosotros is similar to English’s “you all”; funnily the Southern U.S.’s “y’all” is probably a better translation of it since it is informal. You always know when you’ve encountered vosotros due to the trademark –ais, –is –eis that tend to be the verb endings; or when in commands a –d ending likehablad “speak” or comed “eat”.
Regional slang in Spain include the word vale for “OK”, or molar a verb used for “to be cool”, and the use of the words tío and tía to mean something like “dude” and “chick” when they literally mean “uncle” and “aunt”.
Argentina – Linguistic Inventions
When discussing Argentina, it’s typically the accent known as the porteñoaccent that gets discussed; the accent of Buenos Aires, a major port city. Buenos Aires is a huge center of Argentine culture, but there are other regional variances in Argentina itself, from the accent of the Pampas or the flatlands, the accent of Patagonia, or the accent of Tierra del Fuego.
Part of what makes Argentina so fascinating from a linguistic point of view is how the influx of immigrants, typically Italian and German, has influenced the language. For instance, German or German variations may be spoken in the Pampas region or by Argentine Mennonites; these dialects are known asplautdietch, Paraná-Wolga-Deutsch, or Belgranodeutsch, among others.
In some places, the rioplatense accent (the area around the Río de la Plata) is offset by the regional variances of lunfardo.
What lunfardo is famous includes a jumble of words from different languages (French, Italian, Galician, English, and others), and the use of vesre which is a playful approach to mixing words up. It is rather apt that it would be known asvesre, because it’s a jumbled form of revés “reverse”.
The most common examples of vesre include how la pizza (an Italian loanword) is turned into zapi, or how libro “book” is turned into broli. It is so common that Pizza Zapi is a brand name in Argentina, and the expressionagarrar los brolis (literally, “to grab the brolis) is used for “to hit the books”.
In addition to that, you may also hear of portuñol (a portmanteau of portuguésand español) which is a mix of Portuguese and Spanish, common in the areas where Argentina borders Brazil.
Earlier, I discussed that Spain had originated the singular vos and that it had gone out of style in Spain, except in fairy tale settings. In Argentina, and in many other countries of South America, the use of the singular vos is still very much alive.
So common is it in Argentina that the use of vos outranks the use of the pronoun tú “you (informal)”.
While most tenses conjugate vos the way tú is conjugated, the present tense is a glaring exception: vos podés is equal to tú puedes “you can”, which is somewhat similar to Spain’s vosotros podéis except that Spain uses it in a plural sense.
However, in other tenses, like the past tense, vos conjugates exactly like tú:vos comiste “you ate”, and tú comiste “you ate”.
Argentina’s voseo (the use of vos) is palpable; Argentine plays, movies, books, telenovelas, websites, newspapers, and practically every type of media in Argentina freely uses vos.
Other countries may make use of the voseo, or at least recognize it, but that is not to say that it is always equally applied.
Chile, Argentina’s neighbor, uses a slightly different conjugation of the voseo, when it does use it. It’s comparable to the U.S. saying “neighbor” or “color”, while the UK uses “neighbour” and “colour”.
Where it is different is that Chile does not like to use the voseo in common speech. Argentina uses the voseo in almost all aspects of life. In Chile, the use of voseo is something that only really happens with the younger generations, and never in places of business. Chile sees the voseo as a kind of slang, not explicitly vulgar, but not at all professional, or even polite; it’s the way teenagers or young adults would address each other or smaller children, but never their elders or superiors.
This makes Argentine Spanish truly unique, because many famous Argentine authors or poets like Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, or Griselda Gambaro make free use of the voseo.
Sometimes studying Argentine Spanish feels like you have to learn a new tense, but it’s truly just learning a new way of thinking about the language, built on a foundation that’s already there.
Mexico – Indigenous Roots
Mexican Spanish is probably the most easily recognizable type of Spanish in all of Latin America. This is partly because Mexico is very much involved in the Latin American dubbing business; most things dubbed from other languages (English, French, Portuguese, German, etc.) tend to go through Mexican channels for their Latin American dubs.
What makes Mexican Spanish a little more difficult to explain is that Mexico itself is very large, and so there are regional dialects within regional dialects. A specific city might have its own type of dialect, which is fairly standard with most languages (Madrid to Spain, Paris to France, London to England, and so on).
Larger cities have their own sway, and so Mexico City, Acapulco, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Monterrey, and others will have their own types of dialects and words.
This is in addition to the fact that Mexico has its own states, and the variations of Mexican Spanish (such as norteño “Northern”, costeño “coastal”, andbajacaliforniano “Baja Californian”) are spread through them.
Another factor in Mexican Spanish to understand is the existence of dialects in other countries. In the United States, the Mexican variation of Spanish is typically known as chicano, but it differs depending on the city itself. The term chicano refers to Mexican-American children, who live as both someone living in the United States but also have a cultural heritage to Mexico. The term chicano has been used to refer to children of Mexican descent in other countries, but it is most commonly referring to Mexican-American children.
What makes Mexico truly unique is the inclusion of so many loanwords from different indigenous languages. Mexico has always had many indigenous populations, even after the Spanish conquest that turned Mexico into the Viceroy of New Spain.
The existence of these indigenous languages was never truly stamped out by the Spanish conquistadors, hard as they tried. Many people in Mexico still have strong cultural or linguistic ties to these indigenous roots, though Spanish has been pushed as the standard of Mexico for centuries. And while many Mexican citizens push for the preservation of these languages and cultures, especially those of indigenous descent, many languages died out before specific legislation was put in place to help preserve endangered Mexican languages; a real hot button issue in Mexico.
The most commonly referenced of these indigenous languages it that of Nahuatl, which has been spoken in Central America or Mesoamerica since the 7th century. Nahuatl was once the most prevalent language in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, which became Mexico City after the Spanish conquered the region. Today, Nahuatl has about 1.4 million speakers.
Nahuatl has many loanwords, both in Spanish and in English: chocolate, cacao, guacamole, jicama, chipotle, tequila, chile peppers, and many more in Spanish such as aguacate “avocado”, cacahuete “peanut”, and jalapeño“pepper from Xalapa/Jalapa”.
In addition to Nahuatl, there are other languages that show up in other regional variations. Yucatec Maya, the language of the Maya living in the Yucatan Peninsula, has about 800,000 speakers. Other indigenous variations include Mixtec, Zapotec, Chinantec, and others.
Regional variations in countries with large numbers of indigenous populations and those with strong ties to indigenous culture frequently have this kind of linguistic tradition.
For example, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic have a strong history with the Taino / Arawak people; from Taino we have words like huracán“hurricane”, hamaca “hammock”, maíz “corn / maize”, canoa “canoe”, iguana“iguana”, and canibal “cannibal”. Other common words include different variations of plants and animals, plátano “plantain” or sometimes “banana” (though la banana also exists), or la patata “potato” and la batata “sweet potato / yam”.
Other countries have similar ties. The other notable example is Peru, which has strong ties to the language of Quechua. Quechua was (and still is) the language of the Incas, who formed their Empire around the city of Cuzco. Today, Quechua has almost 9 million speakers, in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, and Colombia – understandable given that the Inca Empire spanned the Andes. Words that come from Quechua include puma for “puma / cougar / mountain lion”, cóndor “condor”, la pampa “flatland, prairie”,charqui “jerky”, and the regional use of la guagua to mean “a baby”, since it was named after the sound of a baby going “waah-waah”. And of course, “llama” and “alpaca” have their roots in Quechua as well.
With Mexico, and with other languages that have indigenous roots, the culture and the language are intertwined. Understanding the language and the linguistic traditions is to have a mirror into the culture and history.
Which Spanish is your Spanish?
As you can see, Spanish is an incredibly varied language, but it isn’t without its commonalities.
Spanish grammar, as I’ve said before, is predominantly uniform. Most tenses, the subjunctive, and conjugations of the two, are the same throughout Spanish. It is entirely possible to learn Spanish from Spain and be able to understand the grammar of someone from Argentina.
The difficult part is more in the accent (the way language sounds when spoken) and the dialect (the regional word choice), which can all be learned.
Most people, myself included, ask themselves, “Which Spanish is right for me?”
For some of us, it’s a matter of cultural roots. Some people have family from a certain country that they’d like to talk to and understand more.
Some base it off of their own personal interests in study. If you were going to study abroad in Spain, then learning Spain’s dialect would be the obvious choice. It goes without saying that people will naturally gravitate towards the dialect of the language that they believe they will be utilizing most.
Others approach it from the standpoint of business: which market or field one plans on entering. If the goal is to work in Mexico City, then Mexico’s dialect seems the obvious choice. Similar to studying abroad, work opportunities make language indispensable. If you planned to work in Argentina, you would be at a disadvantage not knowing what the voseo was all about. Work may be a more compelling reason to learn a language than simple study, because one’s success could quite possibly be tied to your abilities to navigate the language, to use it correctly, and to not offend people unintentionally.
Spanish education is a little peculiar (arguably quite clever) in the fact that what version you are taught depends on where you live.
The United States typically teaches the Latin American standard dialect because Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Latin America are closer than Spain.
Similarly, the United Kingdom often teaches the Castilian dialect of Spain. Again, because of proximity, a British student is more likely to be taughtvosotros than someone from the U.S.
Herein lies the larger question: Which Spanish do you want to study?
Once you can answer that question, you can start to focus your language studies from the basic default “textbook Spanish” to a more conversational understanding.
To that end, 123 Spanish Tutor employs tutors from multiple Spanish-speaking countries. Not only can you take advantage of their knowledge as a native speaker, but you can definitely hone your skills in a certain dialect with them.
Having a tutor to practice listening and conversational skills is invaluable. Add to that a wealth of knowledge and your personal specialization. We now live in an age where tutors aren’t people you have to physically meet up with. So why not take advantage?