With over 500 million worldwide speakers, Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language on the planet. From Argentina to Spain and the Philippines, nearly anywhere you find civilization, a Spanish speaker won’t be far.
Appearing in so many diverse places over the course of such a long period of time, the Spanish language has naturally begun to evolve and change in many unique ways. One of the most pronounced and interesting differences between the variations of Spanish are those between the Spanish spoken in Spain, and the variations of Spanish found in Latin America.
Latin American Spanish vs. European Spanish
While all Spanish Speakers can understand one another, for the most part, there is huge diversity within the language. The language is so diverse, and with such a complicated history, that you may find more differences between two dialects in Spain than you do between one in Spain and one in Latin America. There was no uniform change, as the modern language evolved from Castellano Spanish (Medieval Spanish) in each locale relatively isolated.
For example, Argentinian Spanish can be considered further away in style and vocabulary from Mexican Spanish than from the Spanish spoken in Southern Spain. Simultaneously, written Spanish is relatively uniform around the globe with only slang to strongly differentiate it between regions.
A Mexican Spanish vs Spain Spanish comparison may not be as disparate as a Mexican Spanish vs Argentinian Spanish Comparison. There is no uniform change from Iberian to Latin Spanish.
Having said all that, there are some generally accepted differences between the Latin American Spanish dialects and European Spanish that are worth noting.
Differences in Vocabulary
Throughout Latin America, the vocabulary used for certain items and objects will be different from the words and phrases used in Spain. For example, the verb ‘to drive’ is said as conducir in Spain but manejar throughout much of Latin America. A computer will be referred to as an ordenador in Spain, but computadora in Latin America.
We could list many more possible examples of Spanish vocabulary differences between the continents, but you get the idea. Many of the bigger differences seem to have to do with more modern conventions and pieces of technology, which may reflect the geographical and cultural gap that existed when these advancements came about
Vosotros and Ustedes
Another major difference between Spanish in Spain and Spanish in Latin American countries is the usage of “vosotros” and “ustedes” to mean ‘you all’. In Spain, you are more likely to hear vosotros, while in Latin America you will generally hear ustedes. There are other variations as well, with some countries like Costa Rica commonly using the singular part of this conjugation "vos" as in vos decís. Whether using tú or vos, a Spanish speaker will understand you.
Z and C Pronunciation
An obvious difference between Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish in Latin America is the way that they pronounce Z’s and C’s. In Spain these letters are pronounced with a TH sound, often described as sounding like a lisp. In Latin America, these same letters are pronounced more akin to the noise of an S.
The Colombian Paisa region and Andean Spanish dialects will also have a Z and C sound similar to that found in Northern Spain.
There is a legend that is still held onto that states that the “lisp” sound heard in Spain pronunciation actually originated with King Ferdinand who had a natural lisp. In an effort to ingratiate themselves with him the nobility copied this speech pattern, and thus the rest of the country.
While a fun story, the truth is that the various variations of these sounds were actually the result of a natural process that can be roughly traced to taking place between the 15th and 17th centuries. Different stages and variations of this evolution have been studied and debated, but simply put, the geographic distance and political changes in that period helped to accelerate the separation of these forms of speech.
Equatoguinean Spanish and More
Breaking Spanish into only two halves ignores the unique variations to be found in Canarian, Andalusian, Castilian, Murcian, and Rioplatense Spanish, as well as many others.
For example, Equatoguinean Spanish is rarely talked about but is the only Spanish that has official status in Sub-Saharan Africa. The language has an official governing body in the Equatoguinean Academy of the Spanish Language and is spoken by about 90% of the population of Equatorial Guinea
While having many unique features, Equatoguinean Spanish seems to be more related to Iberian Spanish than the Spanish found in Latin America, likely due to the historical and geographic location of the country, not becoming colonized by the Spanish until well after the height of the Golden Empire.
Amongst some of the unique aspects of the language is that vosotros is used interchangeably with ustedes, and nouns and adjectives don’t typically always align as they would in the other dialects.
Spanish Versus Hispanic
Something else worth noting quickly is the difference between Spanish and Hispanic which you may often hear reference to. The term Spanish refers to the nation of Spain (one’s nationality) as well as the language. The term Hispanic refers to whether or not someone speaks Spanish, typically as their first or home language.
Another term you may hear is Latino or Latina, which refers to the population of Latin America and not necessarily a specific language or culture.
Don’t Make Easy to Avoid Spanish Mistakes
Spanish is an incredibly common language, and Spanish speaking countries have a tremendous amount to offer students and businesses able to communicate effectively. However, it can be easy to use the wrong terminology if your Spanish is not based on the region to which you are actually communicating. The Spanish Group delivers Spanish to English, or English to Spanish translations online in only a few simple steps, and it will be oriented to the exact region to which you are speaking. This same expertise is available for any of the other 90+ languages The Spanish Group offers. If you have any need for language services don’t hesitate to contact them today.