The Ultimate Guide to Spanish Dialects Around the World
Think about all the English dialects you’ve heard. Within each country that speaks English, there are tons of different accents and dialects. Each region and city has adapted a unique vocabulary and its own way of expressing things. This might not be a huge barrier if you’re a native English speaker, but when you’re learning a second language and hear various dialects, it can completely throw you off!
Spanish is one of the most popular languages to learn, but it also has countless dialects and accents. What you learn in your high school Spanish class isn’t necessarily what you will hear when you talk with a native speaker. To prepare you for any possible Spanish conversation, we’ve prepared the ultimate guide to Spanish dialects from around the world.
A (Very) Brief History of the Spanish Language
If you’ve ever wondered why people from the United States speak differently from those from the UK, you’re not alone! The same question stands for the Spanish language. Why are there so many distinct dialects throughout the Spanish-speaking countries?
The Spanish language, of course, comes from Spain. Before Spain became a world power and started conquering nations around the world, the language developed over hundreds of years on the Iberian Peninsula. When the conquistadores started exploring the world, there were already multiple Spanish dialects in the country.
The reason that none of the countries in Latin America use the “th” sound for the “z” and “c” like in Spain is that the conquistadors came from Seville, Andalucía. This area of Spain had (and still has) a distinct dialect in which there is no difference between the “s,” “c,” and “z” pronunciation.
As the conquistadors seized areas throughout the world, they established strict governmental and educational systems that helped integrate the Spanish language in many different areas.
Today, each country has its own accent, slang, and dialects due to multiple factors. Geographic isolation, multicultural influences, and indigenous languages have all helped develop the Spanish dialects that are spoken today.
Even though Spain is the origin of the Spanish language, it’s dialect is unique to the Iberian Peninsula. The majority of Spaniards speak Castilian, or Castellano. The term comes from a town in Central Spain where it is believed that the Spanish language originated.
There is essentially no difference between Castellano and Spanish, but the term Castellano normally refers to the Spanish spoken in Spain.
The Castellano dialect is distinct, both in pronunciation and grammar. As previously mentioned, the Spanish pronounce both the “z” and “c” with a “th” sound that changes the sound of the language. For example, instead of saying “grah-see-ahs,” the Spaniards pronounce it “grah-thee-ahs.”
In terms of grammar, Spaniards use the pronoun vosotros, which is a less formal version of ustedes. With this pronoun comes a new and unique set of verb conjugations: vosotros vais versus ustedes van. While vosotros is not common in Latin America, it does appear in books and people are generally familiar with how to use vosotros.
Another telling sign of the Spain Spanish dialect is the use of the present perfect tense instead of the past simple for things that just happened. For example, instead of saying yo fui al supermercado, they would say yo he ido al supermercado.
Finally, the imperfect tense of the subjunctive mood is different in Spain. Instead of saying si yo tuviera un millón de dólares, in Spain they would say si yo tuviese un millón de dólares. Both forms are correct, but the -ese form is more common in Spain.
The Andalusian dialect comes from Andalucía, the region of Spain from which the conquistadors originated. As such, they don’t have the telling “th” sound in their pronunciation.
In general, the Andalusian dialect is similar to Caribbean Spanish in the fact that spoken Spanish cuts off a lot of letters. It can sometimes not even sound like Spanish—or grammatically correct Spanish—as the “s,” “d,” “l,” and “r” are hard to hear.
For example, they drop the –s at the end of words, so tú vienes sounds like tú viene. It sounds incorrect without the s, but it’s just a nuance of the Andalusian dialect. Similarly, the soft d at the end and in the middle of words is not pronounced. So, supermercado becomes supermerca’o, and todo, is to’o.
Quite possibly the most confusing aspect of the Andalusian dialect is that they drop the soft “r” or exchange it with the “l.” For example, the word alma can sound like arma, and llamar becomes llama’.
Another area of Spain that has a completely unique dialect is the Canary Islands. These islands are located to the southwest of Spain, off the coast of Morocco. Their location, combined with Portugal’s attempts to colonize them, has created a distinct version of Spanish.
Like Andalusian Spanish, the “c,” “s,” and “z,” are all pronounced with an “s” sound. The “s” at the end of the word also turns into an aspirated “s,” or a soft “h” sound. Also, Canarian Spanish does not use the vosotros form like the rest of Spain.
Canarian grammar varies slightly from academic Spanish. For example, instead of using the de to express possession, Canarian Spanish just removes it. So, la mochila de Silvia becomes la mochila Silvia.
Finally, the Canary Islands have a lot of their own vocabulary because of their history and geographical isolation. One of the most common examples is that they use guagua for “bus.”
There are several Spanish-speaking areas in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. The Spanish spoken there is famous for its unique pronunciation and vocabulary.
A lot of the characteristics of Canarian and Andalusian Spanish are prominent in Caribbean Spanish as well, especially the letter-dropping.
Each of the Caribbean islands has had a complex and multicultural history that has influenced the language. For example, the United States, France, and African nations impacted the islands as multiple groups settled and claimed the territories. Because of this, each country has some unique words and their own way of pronouncing Spanish.
In general, Caribbean Spanish has fast-paced pronunciation and drops certain letters from words. For example, para becomes pa’ and está becomes ‘ta. Also, Puerto Ricans often pronounce the “r” with a more American accent because of the States’ heavy influence on the region.
Yes, Spanish is spoken in Africa! The small country of Equatorial Guinea on the western coast of Africa has had a tumultuous colonial history. It has been ruled by the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the British (and then the Spanish again). While it may seem strange that the Spanish persistently sought control of an African nation, they used the area as a source of slaves for their other territories.
Just like with our previous territories, the cultural, geographical, and historical components of a country play heavily into the spoken languages. Equatorial Guinea has three official languages, one of which is Spanish, and numerous non-official indigenous languages.
The vast majority of people in this African nation speak Spanish as a second language. As such, the dialect includes technical errors. The people combine Spanish with their indigenous dialects.
Common grammatical “mistakes” that you may hear include the combination of the usted pronoun with tú conjugations, misused prepositions, and errors in noun-adjective agreement.
In terms of pronunciation, Equatorial Spanish has no difference between the single and double “r,” and the final “s” is heavily spoken. Finally, the “d” can sometimes sound like an “r.”
Rioplatense (Argentinian) Spanish
The name Rioplatense comes from the area between Argentina and Uruguay called Río de la Plata, where the Atlantic Ocean enters South America. This area has a unique and famous Spanish dialect, in part due to the great influence of Italians living in the region.
The most well-known part of the Rioplatense dialect is the “sh” sound for the “y” and “ll” letters. Normally, the “y” and “ll” are pronounced either with a “y” or “j” sound, but in this region, these letters sound like “sh.” Pollo sounds like poh-shoh, and yo is pronounced “sho.”
Additionally, the pronoun vos and its corresponding verb conjugations are extremely popular in the region. While vos is used all across Latin America with varying degrees of commonality, the Rioplatense dialect is known for its use of vos.
In the northern part of South America, we find another common dialect called Andean Spanish (named after the Andean mountains). The countries that speak this dialect of Spanish include Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, and Argentina.
There are several indigenous groups in this region, the most well-known being the Incans, that have affected the Spanish dialect of this area. There are some key pronunciation aspects that are different from the rest of Latin America.
For example, while many countries tend to drop the final “s,” the Andean dialect has a strong “s” at the end of words. Additionally, the Andean dialect generally distinguishes clearly between the “ll” and “y” sounds, while they are pronounced identically in other countries.
The Andean Spanish dialect covers a large area, so it is hard to generalize one dialect for seven countries. However, it is true that the Spanish in this area is different from Central American Spanish and that the pronunciation is generally clear. Another distinction is the musicality of this dialect. When it is spoken, you can hear the extended vowels and the changing intonation.
Mexican and Central American Spanish
Last but not least, we have the Mexican and Central American Spanish dialect. If you live in the United States, this is probably the most common Spanish dialect you’ve heard and what is normally taught in schools.
Additionally, Mexico has a huge influence on Spanish-language cinema and culture. In general, the Spanish spoken from Mexico to Panama is clear and straightforward. These countries don’t use vosotros, but the informal pronoun vos is common between friends.
The grammar is generic, and the vocabulary—while somewhat different from South American and Spain Spanish—is easy to understand. What sets the vocabulary apart is the heavy influence of English and American culture on the language. The region has adopted many americanismos into its dialect that may not be understood in other parts.
While the pronunciation is clear in more formal settings, each country has an endless amount of slang. Additionally, in many Central American countries, like El Salvador and Honduras, the words lose a few letters like in Caribbean Spanish. The most common examples are the absence of the final “s” and shortening of words like para.
It is important to note a slight difference in Costa Rican Spanish. In terms of economy and standard of living, areas of Costa Rica are vastly different from the rest of Central America because of the impact of the United States. Their Spanish dialect reflects that influence, as many Costa Ricans don’t roll their “rs,” but pronounce it instead like an English “r.”
Guatemala has a reputation for being one of the best places to learn Spanish. While it is located right below Mexico, it has a unique take on the Spanish language due to almost half of its population being of indigenous Mayan descent. As thousands of inhabitants speak Spanish as their second language, it produces a slower and clearer pronunciation. There are still numerous slang words and some dropping of letters in certain situations, but overall, Guatemalan Spanish is very understandable.
If you are interested in learning Spanish, start with a simple and straightforward dialect that can be understood in any of the Spanish-speaking countries around the world. A great option would be the Central American dialect, specifically the Guatemalan accent. If you are ready to start your language learning journey, sign up for a free trial class with one of our dedicated Spanish teachers from Guatemala. They can help you learn the language and even teach you about other Spanish dialects.
Comment below and let us know what you think about all the different Spanish dialects around the world. If you’ve experienced any of these dialects, tell us about your experience and which ones you found to be the hardest (or the easiest) to understand. ¡Hablamos español!
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