Differences between Latin American and Castilian Spanish
An interesting challenge of learning a foreign language is recognizing that it’s not spoken in the same way all around the world. This situation is especially common with Spanish, which is not even spoken the same way throughout Latin America, not to mention Spain! Latin American and Castilian Spanish have different idioms, words, and expressions that are specific to a region, and you must know them in order to express your ideas correctly.
To add to the complication, there are times where the exact same word means two completely separate things in two different Latin American countries. For example, the word lola means a young lady in Chile, but it means the bust of a woman in Argentina, and in Mexico, it’s a common nickname. Like these, there are many different words and meanings that you need to know in order to say what you really mean and to avoid the shame you would feel if you said something totally wrong.
Today let’s discuss a popular topic among Spanish learners: the difference between Latin American and Castilian Spanish.
Locations of the Two Dialects
For starters, it’s very important to know that Spanish is the official language of 18 Latin American countries (including the Caribbean), which means that more than 418 million people speak it. These countries are divided into four areas: North, Central, South, and the Caribbean. The respective order is:
- El Salvador
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
On the other hand, Castilian Spanish is spoken in northern and central Spain, with around 46.6 million speakers. Interestingly, it became the language of the court of the kingdoms of Castile and León in the 12th century, after which it became the official language of the state.
In addition to this, it’s important to know that there are around 50 million Spanish speakers in the United States, remember a lot of people from Latin America move there and now it’s a very popular language too.
The Main Differences between Latin American and Castilian Spanish
Now that we’ve covered where you find these dialects in the map, let’s see some of the differences between the two. First, Latin American Spanish has a number of regional dialects, which are derived from Castilian but have different sounds from European Spanish. According to Britannica, typical of Latin American Spanish has these sounds:
- The use of the “s” sound where Castilian has the lisp-like “th” sound (for words spelled with a z or c before e or i).
For example, in Latin America when you say gracias it’s pronounced “gra-see-us”, and in Spain it’s pronounced “gra-thee-us”. It’s the same dynamic for all the words that have a z or c before the letters e or i.
- Replacement of the Castilian “ly” sound (spelled ll) with a “y” sound.
For example, in Latin America, the word yo has a “y” sound, but in Spain, it sounds like “llo”.
Ustedes or Vosotros?
Despite these differences, both dialects of Spanish use specific pronouns and verb endings to distinguish between “you singular” and “you plural”, as well as between “you informal” and “you formal.” So, both in Latin America and Spain, if you address one person informally, like a friend or an adult you’ve known for a long time, you use the pronoun tú. And if you talk to one person formally, you use usted.
Let’s see some examples:
- You, singular, informal: Que bonita eres tú. (You’re so pretty.)
- You, singular, formal: ¿A usted le gusta el helado? (Do you like ice cream?)
On the other hand, if you talk to a bunch of people in Latin America you say ustedes, while in Spain you say vosotros. For example:
- You, plural, informal: Ustedes son muy bonitas (You all are so pretty.)
- You, plural, formal: ¿A vosotros les gusta el helado? (Do you [all] like ice cream?)
Fun Expressions in Both Dialects
It’s time to bring the fun part of language-learning to the table: the slang! No one teaches us the colloquial words or phrases when we learn a new language, making it hard to understand mostly young people when we travel or make new friends.
Latin American Slang
Here are some of the most popular words and phrases you should know in Latin America:
- Echando la hueva: it translates literally to “throwing the egg,” but it means you’re just chilling and being lazy at the moment.”
Example: ¿Saldrás hoy a la fiesta? La verdad no, estoy echando la hueva. (Are you going to the party tonight? Honestly no, I’m just chilling right now).
- Guácala: it’s an expression you say when you find something nasty.
Example: ¡Guácala! ¡Que asco ese caracol! (Ew! That snail is so nasty!)
- ¡Qué padre!: it’s a Mexican expression that translates to “how father!” but culturally it means something is cool, nice, or amazing.
Example: ¡Qué padre tu reloj! (Your watch is so cool!)
- Por si las moscas: it culturally means “just in case” but it translates literally to “in case of flies.”
Example: Voy a llevar un paraguas solo por si las moscas (I’m going to take an umbrella just in case it rains).
- No sea sapo: translates to “don’t be a toad,” but it’s used in reference to someone who likes gossiping.
Example: No seas sapo, no digas de quién está enamorada ella (Don’t say who she likes, stop gossiping).
- Apapacharse: the verb apapachar means to pamper or coddle
Example: Me gusta cuando mi mamá me apapacha (I like it when my mom pampers me).
- Estar salado: it translates literally to “being salty”, and it’s used to describe someone who is unlucky.
Example: Qué mala suerte que llovió justo el día de tu fiesta, qué salado estás (It’s so unfortunate that it rained the day of your party, you’re so unlucky).
- Hablar paja: means “speak straw”, but it’s used in reference to the habit of talking too much or talking about something that is not true.
Example: Deja de hablar paja, todos sabemos que eso no es verdad (Stop saying lies, we all know that’s not true).
Also, many countries in Latin America have a different word for “friend”:
- Pana in Ecuador and Venezuela
- Cumpa in Bolivia
- Maje in El Salvador
- Wey in Mexico
- Fren in Panama
- Parce in Colombia
- Mae in Costa Rica and Honduras
- Boludo in Argentina
- Muchá in Guatemala
Colloquial Words in Spain
Now, some examples of colloquial words that can use in Spain are:
- Guay: it refers to something or someone cool.
Example: ¡Qué guay tu camisa! (Your shirt is so cool!
- Vale: it’s a commonly used agreement word, like “ok”
Example: ¿Podrías ir a recoger mi saco a la lavandería? Vale vale, yo lo hago (Would you please get my jacket from the laundry? Okay okay, I’ll do it).
- Tío: it directly translates to “uncle”, but in Spain it’s used to replace “man” (or “woman” as tía) in every conversation
Example: ¡Qué bueno verte tío! (So good to see you man!)
- Hombre: it translates literally to “man,” but it’s culturally used as an interjection.
Example: ¡Hombre! Cuánto tiempo sin verte (Man! Really long time no see)
- Chaval: this word refers to kids or young people in general. The feminine version is chavala.
Example: Ese chaval es muy divertido (That boy is so funny).
- Cabrearse: to get upset
Example: Ella se cabreó cuando su novio no le contestó (She got upset when her boyfriend didn’t respond to her).
- Flipar: you use it when you are absolutely blown away by something you didn’t know
Example: ¡Flipas viendo esa película! (You’ll be so impressed with that movie!)
- Ligar: to flirt or get someone’s attention in order to woo them.
Example: Creo que ese hombre te está tratando de ligar (I think that guy is trying to flirt with you).
Learn Through Practice
It’s amazing how Spanish can be so different around the world! Remember it’s a language that can be a little tricky so you need to practice it continually. Join us at Homeschool Spanish Academy for more tips and fun learning. See you around!
Would you like more tips for your trip abroad? Check these out!
- Learn Castilian Spanish with this List of Free Resources
- World Religions in Spanish: Your Ultimate Vocab Guide
- 20 Unusual Guatemala Facts That Will Shock You
- The History and Culture of Antigua Guatemala
- How to Discuss Your Life Story and Background in Spanish
- 25 Everyday Ways to Ask for Help in Spanish
- How Do They Celebrate Halloween in Spanish-Speaking Countries?
- 20 Mexican Slang Words You Need to Know Before You Travel
- A Giant List of 119 Nations and Nationalities in Spanish
- How to Talk About Your Mood in Spanish
- World Religions in Spanish: Your Ultimate Vocab Guide - November 28, 2020
- 10 Ways to Say ‘I Don’t Know’ in Spanish - November 20, 2020
- Types of Spanish Music and Latin American Music - November 19, 2020