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Differences between Spanish in Spain and Latin America


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What is Spanish called?
In Latin American countries, the Spanish language is simply called español (Spanish) as that is from where the language was brought. In Spain, however, the Spanish language is called castellano (Castilian), which refers the Castile province in central Spain where the language is said to have originated. Spaniards do not call the language español because there are other languages like Catalan (or Valencian), Galician and Basque which are spoken in Spain that would also be considered Spanish languages (lenguas españolas).

The Evolution of Spanish
The idea of “continental lag” was first coined by the linguist Albert Marckwardt to describe that the language which is brought to a new place changes less than the language from where it originated. This could explain why the words and phrases people use in Latin America are different – the language didn’t have time to “catch up” to its mother country (Spain). The influence of the people or countries around those speaking the language affects the vocabulary and the way of speaking as well. There are, for example, words borrowed from English because of a country’s proximity to the United States or the UK. Words like bistec, champú, cóctel are words that are commonly used in both Spain and Latin America. Before the Spanish arrived in South America, there were hundreds of different native languages it’s possible that many of these words were incorporated to the Spanish language of each particular country.

Differences in Pronunciation
The greatest difference one might hear between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish in Latin America is the pronunciation of the Z and C (before I or E). In Latin America, these two letters are pronounced as S, while in Spain you would hear a TH sound. For this reason, someone from Barcelona would pronounce the name of their hometown as Barthelona.

Here’s an example: la taza es azul

In Spain, it would sound like: la ta[th]a es a[th]ul
In Latin America, you would hear: la ta[s]a es a[s]ul

In some parts of Argentina and Uruguay, the double LL and Y sounds are pronounced like an english SH, while other Spanish speakers would pronounce it as a Y sound.

Example: está lloviendo en la playa

In Argentina, you would hear: está [sh]oviendo en la pla[sh]a
Everywhere else: está [y]oviendo en la pla[y]a

Besides the differences in specific letter sounds, there are also differences in the general way people speak. Some say that Argentinians have a “sing-song” accent, Colombian Spanish is the most neutral sounding, or that some countries drop an S at the end or in the middle of words. The more you are exposed to different accents, the easier they become to understand. Learn more

Differences in Vocabulary
Another one of the differences between Spanish in Latin American and Spain is the different words used for the same objects. You might be used to hearing a certain word for something and then be caught off guard while on vacation in Chile, for example, when you hear an avocado called palta when everywhere else it’s called aguacate. Or in Mexico, the call a swimming pool alberca, wheras everyone else calls it piscina.

Here are some more examples:

a pen is called bolígrafo or boli in Spain and a pluma or lapicera in Latin America
a peach is melocotón in Spain and durazno in Latin America
a car is coche in Spain and carro or auto in Latin America
a cell phone in Spain is móvil and celular in Latin America
the verb to drive is conducir in Spain and manejar in Latin America

Ustedes vs Vosotros
Spain is the only Spanish-speaking country where the pronoun vosotros and vosotras is used, giving Spaniards an extra ending to memorize for each tense. This is one of the key differences between the two languages. Vosotros is the plural form of the second person (you) and is used in a casual manner. In Spain, when addressing your group of friends you would use vosotros. Ustedes would be used only if you wanted to show formality. In Latin America, since vosotros doesn’t exist, they simply use ustedes in both formal and informal situations.

Vos vs Tú
Similar to Spain using vosotros, there is one pronoun used in Argentina, Paraguay and Uraguay – vos. Vos is used instead of tú.

Past Tense
The way that Spaniards and Latin Americans talk about the past includes differences as well. In Spain, it is common to talk about a completed action using the present perfect tense: Hoy he ido al trabajo (I have gone to work today). In Latin America, it is more common to use the simple past: Hoy fui al trabajo (I went to work today).

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