To non-Spanish speakers, the Spanish may sound the same no matter where you are. But for Spanish-speakers, you'll realize that Spanish can vary based on where you are in the world.
Spanish tends to vary the greatest when comparing Latin America to Spain. There are a few differences that even native-speakers have to adjust to when speaking to someone from the other side of the pond.
Changes in word pronunciation
Spain has unique pronunciations that are unheard of in Latin American countries, and vice-versa.
Perhaps the most significant difference between Spanish in Spain and Latin America is the pronunciation of the letters "c" and "z." In Latin America, the letters produce an s-sound. In Spain, the same letters have a th-sound.
Popular examples of the word differences:
- Zapato – In Spain, "zapato" is pronounced "th-apato," while Latin Americans say "s-apato."
- Gracias – In Spain, "gracias" is pronounced "gra-th-ias," while Latin Americans say
- Brazil – In Spain, "Brazil" is pronounced "Bra-th-il," while Latin Americans say "Bra-s-il."
The pronunciation is one of the most audible differences when comparing Spanish from the two regions.
Accent and dialect differences
Spanish is the second most popular language in the world in terms of native speakers, ranking higher even than English. Spanish is the official language for most of the countries in Latin America and Spain.
If you've traveled throughout Latin America, you're aware of the vast differences in accents for each country. The same applies when traveling between Latin America and Spain. Even traveling between regions in Spain, you'll notice slight differences in how they say certain words.
Accents and dialects vary as well as how fast people talk and the overall tone of the language. The good news is that if you have an understanding of the Spanish language, you can usually understand what someone else is saying.
Form differences: Ustedes vs. Vosotros
One of the early Spanish lessons that we're exposed to is about the various forms and tenses for words. Ustedes and Vosotros are plural forms when referring to "you (all)." In Latin America, the form is rarely used. In Spain, however, it's the primary pronoun to use in everyday conversation.
The main difference between ustedes and vosotros is formal vs. informal, respectively. Spain is a lot more informal than Latin America when it comes to addressing you(all) and tend to rely on the use of vosotros solely. Ustedes is also used in Spain, but only for very formal situations.
In Latin America, vosotros is virtually nonexistent. In most of the Latin American countries, you'll predominantly hear native-speakers using ustedes, regardless of a formal or informal situation.
An example of how you would say "are you (all) going to the concert?" in Spain is "vosotros váis al concierto?" In Latin America, you would hear "ustedes van al concierto?"
The difference in ustedes vs. vosotros tends to be one of the most confusing changes in how natives speak Spanish in their respective regions. Vosotros introduces an entirely new form of verb conjugation that you have to be mindful about when speaking in Spain.
Even so, you can still manage to get around with using only the ustedes form in Spain.
Another minor form difference in how Spanish is spoken mainly occurs in the Latin countries of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Native speakers use "vos" instead of "tu" for informal situations.
Understanding different vocabulary
Whatever your native language is, there are plenty of words that you can think of that describe the same thing. The same is true for Spanish. Spain and Latin America have different word preferences for talking about the same objects, emotions, etc.
Similar to how you can find difference Spanish-accents varying across regions of the world or even within a country itself. Each country, city, town, and region has its slang and local vernacular that varies from one to another.
There are many common everyday words and items that we use that you'll find has different names depending on if you're in Spain or Latin America.
Examples of different vocabulary:
- Cell phone – Latin America uses "celular," but in Spain, they say "móvil."
- Computer – Latin America uses "computadora," but in Spain, they say "ordenador."
- Juice – Latin America uses "jugo," but in Spain, they say "jumo."
- Pen – Latin America uses "pluma," but in Spain, they say "bolígrafo."
- Car – Latin America uses "carro," but in Spain, they say "coche."
It may take some getting used to when traveling in Spain or Latin America to get accustomed to the new vocabulary. Local vocabulary and word preference is something that you learn locally. Some of the words are more interchangeable between the two regions, such as the words for car vs. computer. Most people have heard both ways of saying "car" in Spanish, while fewer know both words for "computer."
Understanding the word context is useful in picking up new vocabulary being used, whether you're in Spain or Latin America.
When you first start to learn Spanish, the focus doesn't need to be on figuring out the differences between Latin American Spanish or Spanish from Spain as learning the fundamentals is more important. However, if you're looking for a good course that's available in both variants, you may be interested in reading this review of Pimsleur.
Spanish in Latin America compared to Spain is similar to comparing English as it is spoken in the United States vs. the UK. While there are slight variations, if you can speak the language, you can generally understand across regions.