10 Differences Between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish
If you’re comparing Castilian Spanish vs Latin American Spanish and wondering which Spanish you should learn, you definitely have to read this post.
In this lesson, I’m exploring the reasons behind the development of Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish and digging a little bit into the history of Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries. Then, I’m listing the 10 main differences between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish and including explanations, grammar peculiarities, and examples.
Castilian Spanish vs Latin American Spanish
Wait, are you telling me that there’s not just one Spanish language but two of them? Well, in fact, there are at least 19 different versions of the Spanish language—but I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s reflect a little bit about what languages are and how they evolve.
Languages are living phenomena that exist in permanent evolution. Think of Shakespearean English and the English spoken in countries like Australia or Scotland. Time and place affect the way we speak a language. Over the decades (and centuries), a language spoken in a determined country or region evolves differently than the same language spoken in a different place.
A Bit of History
Let’s do a quick flashback 500 years in history to the point where the Spanish language’s evolution started to diverge in different branches. When, in 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas he also brought the Spanish language to these lands.
In the five centuries that have passed since the Spanish spoken in Spain and the one spoken in Latin America have had more than enough time to evolve in widely different ways. The same thing happened with the English spoken in England and the one spoken in the United States.
Who Speaks Spanish?
Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world with over 400 million people who speak it. These people are distributed between Spain and its former colonies, which are mostly the countries that form Latin America except Brazil.
These are the Latin American nations that have Spanish as their official language.
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Puerto Rico
Then you have to consider the Spanish-speaking people living in the US, Puerto Rico, and some African countries that also speak Spanish. This gives way for a lot of different versions of Spanish.
Although you could say that every country has its own kind of Spanish, there are tendencies and generalities that differentiate the Castilian Spanish vs Latin American Spanish. Let’s learn about them!
10 Differences Between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish
Remember, if you speak Spanish everybody will understand you in any of the Spanish-speaking countries. Yes, there are differences between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish, but they aren’t that big to completely block communication. Again, think of a conversation between an American and a British, there will be differences in accent and vocabulary, but the main body of the language will still be there.
1. Vosotros vs Ustedes
This is perhaps the biggest difference between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish. In Spain, people use vosotros as the second person plural or “plural you.” In Latin America, people use ustedes which produces a completely different conjugation.
In its origins, ustedes was used as a formal you. Actually, singular usted is still used in that way in both Spain and Latin America. At some point in history, ustedes became the norm in Latin America, losing that trait of formality. In consequence, the vosotros conjugation stopped being used and today you rarely hear it in the Americas.
Spain: Vosotros fuisteis al mercado.
Latin America: Ustedes fueron al mercado.
Translation: You went to the market.
2. Ceceo vs Seseo
In the argument between Castilian Spanish vs Latin American Spanish, the ceceo and seseo play a prominent role. In short, ceceo and seseo are two different ways to pronounce the sounds related to the letters s, c (before e and i), and z.
Spanish people pronounce these letters using the “th” English sound. In Latin America, that sound doesn’t exist at all, and the three letters are pronounced with the “s” English sound.
For a deeper explanation about these two kinds of Spanish pronunciation, I recommend you to read my article What’s the Spanish Lisp? All About the Ceceo.
In Spain the words casa and caza have different pronunciations, while in Latin America they sound exactly the same.
3. Verb Tenses
In Spain, it’s very common to use the present perfect tense to talk about something that happened recently in the past. On the other hand, in Latin America people prefer using the simple past.
Spain: He corrido cinco kilómetros esta mañana.
Translation: I’ve run five kilometers this morning.
Latin America: Corrí cinco kilómetros esta mañana.
Translation: I ran five kilometers this morning.
4. The Pronunciation of Ll vs Y
This difference isn’t between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish, but between the Spanish spoken in Spain and that of countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.
In these three South American nations, the sound of the “ll” letter is pronounced more like a “sh” or a soft “j” sound. In the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, the “ll” simply sounds like a “y.”
Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay: Pollo (pronounced “posho”).
Rest of Spanish-speaking countries: Pollo (pronounced “poyo”).
According to the dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy, leísmo refers to the incorrect use of le(s) as a direct object pronoun instead of lo(s) or la(s). In Spain, the use of leísmo is widely extended, while in Latin America you rarely hear it, if at all.
Spain: Le miré con curiosidad.
Latin America: Lo miré con curiosidad.
Translation: I looked at him with curiosity.
In Spanish, the second person singular, the “singular you,” is tú and usted. Tú is informal, while usted is formal. However, vos is a third way to translate this “singular you.”
As you may imagine, vos comes from vosotros and it’s mostly used in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay—although I’ve heard it in Spain and by people from Costa Rica, Chile, and Bolivia. The “voseo” has its own distinct conjugation, but everybody would understand you if you simply use tú.
Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay: ¿Vos sos de Argentina?
Latin America: ¿Tú eres de Argentina?
Translation: Are you from Argentina?
In the Castilian Spanish vs Latin American Spanish debate, vocabulary is one of the main differences. There are many words used in Spain that in Latin America simply don’t exist, and the other way around.
Spain – Latin America – English
- patata – papa – potato
- conducir – manejar – to drive
- zumo – jugo – juice
- ordenador – computadora – computer
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, slang is a “language peculiar to a particular group,” that can be a country, region, or even a city or small town. Each group creates their own particular words that are exclusive to their group and that’s how you end up with something like Mexican Spanish or Guatemalan Spanish.
Spanish slang words: guay, vale, majo.
Mexican slang words: güey, órale, chido.
Guatemalan slang words: canche, bochinche, chilero.
9. Future Tense vs Near Future Tense
One of the less acknowledged differences between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish is the way in which the future tense is used in each dialect. In Spain the use of the simple future is the norm, while in Latin American the near future tense (ir + a + infinitive) is used with more regularity.
Spain: Comeré pasta el domingo.
Translation: I’ll eat pasta this Sunday.
Latin America: Voy a comer pasta el domingo.
Translation: I’m going to eat pasta this Sunday.
10. Castellano vs Español
In Spain, people speak different languages, not only what you know as Spanish. Each different region has its own language. In the Basque Country people speak Basque, in Catalonia they speak Catalan, and in Castilla people speak Castilian or Castellano.
In Latin America, the territories that were colonies of the Spanish Crown simply call their language español, because it was brought by the Spanish people or españoles. In the Americas, people didn’t care about the different regions of Spain, and for that reason calling “castellano” to their language didn’t make any sense.
However, the original name of the language you’re learning is castellano, and that’s how people in Spain refer to it.
Spanish is Spanish
It doesn’t matter if you travel to Spain or Latin America, if you speak Spanish you will be able to communicate with the locals, read every sign, and understand their songs and news TV shows. Just like an American traveling to the UK or Australia would have no problem communicating with the locals.
If you want to know which to learn between Castilian Spanish vs Latin American Spanish, you have to ask yourself what is closer to you and where is more probable that you will travel in the future.
If your answer is Latin America, you can sign up for a free class to learn Latin American Spanish with one of our certified, native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala. HSA offers flexible scheduling, tailored Spanish packages, and more than 10 years of experience providing reliable services to Spanish learners.
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