Which Spanish Dialect Should You Learn?
If you’re planning to learn Spanish, have you decided which dialect of Spanish to learn?
Spanish spoken around the world has many varieties, so there are different Spanish accents you might consider.
You may have noticed that people speak in slightly different ways in Spanish series such as Money Heist (La casa de papel), Mexican movies such as Roma, or the Argentinean film Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas).
By the time you finish this article, you’ll have enough knowledge to choose a dialect of Spanish you’d like to learn. I’ll brief you on all the options and then focus on the most probable options you’ll want to consider. Keep reading to find out which dialect of Spanish is best for you to start learning today!
You’re lucky you’re considering learning Spanish and not Chinese. The Chinese language has 302 dialects in use! The differences are so big that two Chinese speakers using different dialects may not understand each other at all.
Spanish, on the other hand, is mutually intelligible. So no matter what option you choose, you’ll be able to travel to other Spanish-speaking countries without communication issues.
The main division is set between Castellano (Castilian), a dialect of Spanish spoken in Spain, and the Latin American version. Still, there are many internal divisions between these two categories and some other options that don’t fit into either.
1. Spanish on the Spanish Peninsula
- Northern Peninsular (Asturias, Castilla y León, Cantabria, Basque country, Navarre, Aragón, Rioja, Provinces of Guadalajara and Cuenca)
- Central-Southern Peninsular (Madrid, Toledo, La Mancha)
- Southern Peninsular (Andalusia, Extremadura, and Murcia)
- Canarian (Canary Islands)
2. Spanish of the Americas
- New Mexican spoken in the USA
- Central American
- Caribbean (Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Caribbean Colombia, and Caribbean Mexico and Gulf Coast Mexico)
- Andean-Pacific (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, West Bolivian, and Andean Venezuela).
- Rioplatense (Argentina, Uruguay, East Bolivian, and Paraguay)
- Chilean (Chile, Cuyo)
3. Other Dialects of Spanish
- Equatorial Guinea Spanish and Western Sahara Spanish in Africa
- Philippine Spanish in Asia
- Llanito, Spanish mixed with English spoken in Gibraltar
- Judaeo Spanish started by Jews who migrated from Spain in the 15th century and now spoken in Israel and Turkey
Unless you have a distant family in Equatorial Guinea or your romantic partner speaks Philippine Spanish, you’ll surely choose Castellano or a dialect of Spanish from Latin America. Let’s be realistic and focus on these.
Main Differences in Spanish Dialects
You won’t have problems understanding people in Mexico if you study Spanish spoken in Spain and vice versa. The main differences occur in pronunciation and vocabulary and, to a lesser extent, in grammar.
How may Spanish dialects differ? Let me show you without going into too much linguistic technicality.
- Whether it has or not the distinction between the phonemes /θ/ and /s/ (ceceo vs. seseo)
- Whether it has or not the distinction between the represented by letters ll and y (yeismo)
- Whether or not people pronounce the /s/ sound at the end of a syllable
- Whether people reduce or drop unstressed syllables in some combinations
- The use of second-person pronouns (Argentinean vos instead of tú (singular you) and ustedes in Hispanic America instead of vosotros in Spain (plural informal you)
- The preference in Latin America for the simple past tense to talk about recent events instead of the present perfect tense used in Spain
- The preference for le instead of lo as the masculine direct object pronoun
Spanish in the Americas uses many words from Native American languages (guajolote in Mexico instead of pavo in Spain for “turkey”). Its vocabulary also shows a stronger English influence (computadora instead of ordenador to say “computer”).
The main lexical differences are in vocabulary related to food, animals, everyday objects, and clothes.
Hand-picked for you: 10 Differences Between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish
Most Popular Spanish Dialects Around the World
Let’s take a closer look at the most popular different Spanish dialects for you to consider.
Castilian Spanish from Madrid
While there are varieties within the country, the Spanish spoken in Madrid and in general in central and northern Spain is considered standard.
More than 45 million people speak this version of Spanish, and it’s the most preferred dialect of Spanish taught in schools.
- Ceceo—Spaniards pronounce the z and c before e and i as the /θ/ phoneme, similar to English “th”
- Vosotros for informal, plural you
- Use of the present perfect tense to talk about recent events
The Mexican dialect of Spanish is one of the most popular in the world, with 129 million speakers. It’s the dialect of Spanish in Mexico, as well as in parts of the United States and Canada.
- Seseo—Mexican Spanish doesn’t distinguish between the /θ/ and /s/ phoneme
- Ustedes is both formal and informal plural you
- Use of the past simple to refer to recent past events
Argentinian Spanish (Rioplatense)
Argentinian Spanish is spoken in Argentina, and it’s the same dialect as the one in Uruguay. Both dialects are referred to as Rioplatense Spanish.
Argentinian Spanish is easy to recognize for its melody. Its intonation resembles Italian more than Spanish because Italians immigrated to Argentina in the 19th century.
- Seseo and yeismo—the Argentineans use the same pronunciation for y and ll.
- Voseo—they use the pronoun vos instead of tú for singular you, with different conjugation forms compared to other Spanish dialects
To read more about voseo, read Learn to Use Voseo: Vos in Spanish.
Some people say that Chilean Spanish is the most difficult to understand, but once you learn it, all others seem easy.
Why is it so difficult to understand? Well, Chileans don’t pronounce the s after vowels, so sometimes it’s difficult to see when one word ends and another begins.
Another tricky letter to hear is d, which “disappears” between vowels. Add to it, non-standard tú conjugation and regional expressions, and you know how the Chilean dialect earned its fame.
Guatemalan Spanish (Central American)
The Guatemalan accent is similar to Mexican Spanish. Eighty percent of the Guatemalan population (about 13.7 million people) speak this dialect of Spanish.
Many Spanish learners head to Guatemala for their first contact with Spanish, as people there tend to speak more slowly than in other Spanish-speaking countries.
In Guatemala, people use a three-level system of tú, vos, and usted for the second person pronoun “you.” Pronunciation is also easier for English speakers, as it’s a country of seseo.
How To Choose a Spanish Dialect To Learn
Which Spanish dialect is best for you? It all depends on your interests and future plans.
If you want to travel or study in Spain, focus on the Castilian standard. If your interests lie in Latin America, opt for the Mexican or Guatemalan dialect of Spanish. If you’re a fan of a certain Spanish or Latin American author, you may focus on a specific country’s dialect to improve specific vocabulary and regional expressions.
Keep in mind that no matter what dialect of Spanish you choose, you’ll be able to understand and communicate with speakers of Spanish from other countries.
Check out The Ultimate Resource List: Spanish for Beginners (PDFs, books, movies, etc.) to help you get started right away with the dialect that’s most appropriate for you.
Speak Your Chosen Dialect of Spanish
Congratulations on your decision to study Spanish! Now that you know what dialects of Spanish are taught in Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and other Spanish-speaking countries, you’re ready to choose.
Whichever dialect of Spanish you choose, learning Spanish will bring you countless benefits. Being bilingual means much more than simply knowing two languages—it translates into both higher salaries and better cognition and decision-making abilities.
Why not start today? Sign up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy and begin with the easy Guatemalan dialect of Spanish. Start learning Spanish in a 1-to-1 class with one of our friendly and professional teachers from Guatemala. Check out our affordable pricing and flexible programs!
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