How to Learn Latin American Spanish
Why would somebody want to learn Latin American Spanish? Is it different from the Spanish spoken in Spain?
Cien Años de Soledad, Los Narcos México, El Universal, La Corneta. Do you know what these titles have in common?
Did you guess? They all use Latin American Spanish!
What countries use Latin American Spanish? What does pana mean? Why do people in Mexico look strange at me when I say vosotros? What can I do to learn it? Keep reading to find answers to the above questions and much more!
What is Latin American Spanish?
Have you noticed that not all Spanish speakers sound the same? Spanish is the official language in 21 countries, so clearly there’s lots of variety.
However, we tend to divide these countries into two groups. The first uses Castilian Spanish from Spain and the other speaks Latin American Spanish.
18 Latin American countries (including the Caribbean) speak Spanish. More than 418 million people worldwide speak Latin American Spanish, making this dialect a popular option to learn. In contrast, 46.6 million speakers use Castilian Spanish.
If you’ve been studying Castilian Spanish, don’t worry. You’ll still be able to communicate in Latin America, however, there are many differences to be aware of.
Latin American Spanish Characteristics
Here are some key characteristics of Latin American Spanish to keep in mind. I’ve divided them into three areas: grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
3 Grammar Differences
1. First of all, you won’t use the present perfect tense as often as in Spain.
While it’s still used, Latin American Spanish relies more on the preterite tense for simple actions completed in the past.
For example, if you have just finished reading a super interesting book, you’ll share your enthusiasm with a Spanish-speaking friend in two different forms, depending on what Spanish you want to use:
He leído un libro muy interesante.
I have read an interesting book.
Latin American Spanish
Leí un libro muy interesante.
I read an interesting book.
2. The second important grammar difference is the absence of the vosotros form.
The second person in plural will be ustedes and the verb form is the same as the third person plural ellos, ellas.
Ustedes aman la comida.
You all love food.
Take note that there is also a distinct second person singular form vos in Argentina and some other countries, with different grammar forms. You’ll hear people asking–¿Vos vivís aquí? instead of ¿(Tú) vives aquí? when they want to ask, “Do you live here?”.
3. Last but not least, Latin American Spanish uses lots of diminutives. It seems that there are infinite ways of creating cute sounding forms of nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
Therefore don’t get surprised when you hear Espérame un tantito (Wait for me for a little moment); it’s absolutely normal.
Many borrowed English words have been adopted by Latin American Spanish. In Latin America, you use your computadora (computer), telefoneas (call) your friends, aparcas (park) your car, and eat your lonche (lunch).
Slang words are completely different in Latin American Spanish and vary from country to country. Hence if you learned how to sound cool in Spain, get ready for many new lessons.
You probably understand ¡qué padre, güey! (How cool, pal!), but do you know that this Mexican güey is pana in Ecuador and Venezuela, cumpa in Bolivia, boludo in Argentina, muchá in Guatemala, to name just a few?
Forget the ceceo. Latin American Spanish does not use the “th” sound for words spelled with a z or c before e or i. In all these cases, you’ll hear a familiar “s” sound.
It also pronounces the letter ll as “y” and not “ly” as in Spain.
In Chile, Uruguay, in the Caribbean, and in some other Latin American countries, people will drop different letters when speaking, and in many others, the words will seem to be fused into one.
How to Learn Latin American Spanish
If you’ve decided that you want to learn it, I recommend choosing a specific country. Your hunt for resources will become easier if you narrow your options to a certain area.
I’ve prepared some suggestions you may use to immerse yourself in it.
Reading newspapers expands your vocabulary and gives you current topics to comment on with your Spanish-speaking friends. Newspapers use modern language that is neither too formal nor too colloquial, so they’re great to start with.
Many newspapers use Latin American Spanish; focus on the ones that interest you most. When you read, engage with the material. Highlight and check new words, ask yourself questions about what you read, and summarize the story in your own words.
Check out these newspapers written in Latin American Spanish:
2. Series and Movies
Everybody loves movies and series, and it’s one of the most pleasant ways to learn a new language. Binging on Latin American series will provide you with grammar structures, expand your vocabulary, and teach you pronunciation and intonation.
To learn Latin American Spanish through movies and series, you can turn on the Spanish subtitles, or even put subtitles in your mother tongue to start with. Netflix has a great language learning tool that lets you check and save new words, or slow down the reproduction for easier understanding.
If you want to choose your next film, check out:
If you prefer shows with episodes, try Latin American series and telenovelas.
Podcasts are also great to get used to hearing Latin American Spanish. Listening to a language on a daily basis trains your ear and brain.
Choose topics according to your interests, and learn while you’re in the car or while cleaning your house. Listen to breaking news or learn gardening tips. You’ll find it all in the podcast universe.
Check out these suggestions for pure Latin American Spanish:
- El Periódico Radio, Guatemala
- La Corneta, Mexico
- Las 5 Noticias del Día, Peru
- El Primer Café, Argentina
- Españolistos, Colombia
Learning through reading has myriad advantages. You can stop and pick up the story whenever you need, reread parts, underline and comment, and take it with you wherever you go.
Reading authentic literature teaches you language in context and culture at the same time.
There are many great books written in Latin American Spanish, and getting to know them will make it easier for you to switch from Castilian Spanish. They are not recommended for beginners, but if your level is at least intermediate, you can give them a try.
Take a look at these suggestions:
- Cien Años de Soledad, by Gabriel García Márquez (México)
- La Casa de los Espíritus, by Isabell Allende (Chile)
- La Fiesta del Chivo, by Mario Vargas Llosa (Perú)
- El Túnel, by Ernesto Sábato (Argentina)
- El Ruído de las Cosas al Caer, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Colombia)
To get books for kids, see 12 Mexican Children’s Books that Your Family will Love. Reading books for kids while learning a language can be helpful, as the language is simpler and the topics are less complex.
Latin American Spanish resources are easy to find. Whether you decide to use one of the methods I mentioned above or combine them, you’ll be making great steps toward proficiency. Also, learning about Latin American culture and beliefs provides more context for your language skills.
Don’t forget that the best way to master your skills is through conversation with somebody who can guide and correct you. To learn and practice Spanish, sign up for a free one-to-one class with one of our friendly, Spanish-speaking native teachers from Guatemala. They’re ready to provide you with Latin American grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and intonation and the other skills you need on your language learning journey.
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