Spanish is the native language of more than 20 countries, meaning that there are countless accents and varieties. And unfortunately for learners, there is no “neutral” Spanish: there is the Mexican standard, the Latin American standard, the Peninsular standard, the Rioplatense standard… the possibilities are many. But we are here to help! If you would like to learn Spanish but want some help narrowing down which form of the language you would like to concentrate on before enrolling in an online or face-to-face course, then check out our advice here!
What changes between the different varieties of Spanish?
- Pronunciation. Certain sounds are pronounced very differently according to different regions, including both individual sounds and tones. For instance, the intonation of Chilean and Peruvian Spanish varies widely despite the two countries being neighbors, and the letter “c” is pronounced like an English “th” in Spain but as an “s” in Latin American varieties. Even more extreme is the pronunciation of “y,” which has different pronunciations even within the same country! For example, in some Argentinian provinces, “y” (as in yo) is said like “sh” (/sho/), while in others is pronounced as “i” (/io/).
- Phrases and expressions. Chabon, chavo, tío… all these words are informal ways to refer to a male friend (similar to the word mate in English) in Argentina, but if you say chabon to a person from Spain, they might be a bit confused. If you are worried about slang and informal expressions, then a great idea to get familiar with them is to watch TV series and movies and listen to podcasts. You will start to pick up typical expressions from the Spanish-speaking regions that interest you without even realizing it.
- Grammar. Have you ever heard of voseo? This is a way of addressing people that is used mostly in Latin American countries, like Paraguay. Instead of saying tú, as in tú eres de España? (Are you from Spain?), people in these regions would say vos sos de España? This has an impact on the way verbs are conjugated and pronounced. For example, tú comes turns into vos comés, so you’ll need to pay attention to the placement of accents (tildes) when reading and writing, too.
Will my Spanish be understood everywhere I go, no matter what dialect I study?
Yes. Just as an American person is able to communicate with people from Australia using English, different dialects of Spanish are mutually intelligible. There might be some misunderstandings with slang or even common vocabulary if the context is not clear enough (for example, ordenador, computadora, computador and portátil all mean computer), but you will be able to communicate at the same level to which you are familiar.
So, which version of Spanish should I focus on?
The answer is… it depends. There is no “better” version of Spanish to learn: it all comes down to your needs, requirements, and preferences. Are you planning to move to or visit Colombia? Are you in love with the Argentinian culture and want to watch movies and TV series without subtitles? Would you like to study in a reputable Spanish university? These are some questions you should take into account when making the decision to study Spanish.
Whichever dialect you decide to learn, the majority of what you learn will apply to all varieties of Spanish. With a good teacher, motivation, and great learning materials, you will quickly acquire one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Then, you’ll only need to fine-tune your vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and intonation to suit the Spanish variety you need!