23 January 2011
By Carolin Schoeller
Hello, fellow language-learners! Here at Catch the Lingo, we specialise in helping you to find language courses in South America. However, we are well aware of the fact that some of you have been to Spain before and perhaps even learnt your Spanish there. Whilst there is no doubt about the fact that Spanish – one of the romance languages – comes from Spain (you guessed it!), it has been spoken in most Latin American countries since the first conquistadores set foot on the continent in the 15th Century. This means that the Central and South Americans have had over 500 years to revamp the language to their own style and flair! And after all, only a mere 45 million out of the entire 400m people strong global Spanish-speaking force are actually from Spain itself.
Now for all of you curious people, who wonder what exactly the differences are, this week I’m going to present you with a list of the main differences between Latin American Spanish – often referred to as Español – and the “true” Spanish Spanish, also called Castellano.
1) The pronunciation:
The first difference is the seseo: the pronunciation of the “c” and “z” sounds! Whilst in Spain, these letters are the distinctive lisp-sound – similar to the English “th” as in “thunder” – in Latin America this rule is widely ignored. Here, both letters are pronounced in the same way we do when we say words like “city centre” in English. Pretty easy, huh? However, in both Spanish variants, a “c” is pronounced like a “k” when it stands before the vowels “a”, “o” or “u” (as in the song “La Cucaracha”).
A second difference applies to Argentinian Spanish in particular: the “ll” and the “y”. In most Spanish-speaking countries, this sound is pronounced like the “y” in “mayonnaise”. In Argentina, the “ll” and the “y” have a very distinct ring to them; they’re more like the “s” in “leisure”. There are also some subtle differences in the pronunciation of sounds like the “j”, and the “s”, which is simply omitted in some of the accents.
Also, when I was in Cuba, I noticed that the “r” often sounded like an “l”, giving the accents spoken by people a slightly pseudo-Chinese twang. For some reason, swearwords like “joder” don’t sound quite as ghastly when pronounced as “jodel”...
2) The grammar:
The so-called voseo is an antiquated form of the use of the Spanish 2nd person plural “vosotros”. What has occurred here is that some Latin American countries adapted it to the 2nd person singular and use it instead of “tu” (you). This is the case in Argentina, Uruguay and parts of Central America. The verb conjugations also change in connection with the “voseo”, i.e. “vos tenés” equates to “tú tienes”.
In some countries, like Costa Rica for instance, “usted” – normally a very polite way of addressing others – is used for almost everybody and at all ages. This is sometimes called ustedeo.
Another Latin American characteristic is that the 2nd person plural is essentially the same as the 3rd person plural. So whereas in Spain, you would use “vosotros” to address a group of 2 or more people, in Español you simply use “ustedes”. If you learn Spanish in South America and visit Spain afterwards (and vice versa), this is probably the one thing that’s going to cause some major confusion! So be prepared.
3) The vocabulary:
This is a tricky one! Not only are there major differences between Castellano and Español, but often words vary between certain Latin American countries and regions themselves, just as it is the case with American and British English. But as the attentive traveller that I’m confident you are, you will pick up the varying vocabulary and slang quickly.
What’s interesting about the different words is that the Latin American vocabulary has to some extent been influenced by American English. Some examples are the words for car (“carro” in Español and “coche” in Castellano), computer (“computadora” in Español and “ordenador” in Castellano) and cake (“queque” in Español and “pastel” in Castellano).
Now, in terms of Castellano vs. Español, it is really up to you to decide which one of the two you want to learn. But at the end of the day, whichever one you choose, you normally won’t have many difficulties when going to another Spanish-speaking country. Most native speakers know the regional dissimilarities and will understand other accents. If you’re a bit of a linguistic chameleon, you might find it easy adapting to the variations. However, if you’re not, then the one main thing to remember is to stick to one dialect and not to start mixing them up!
So why not check out our language schools in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru?
This blog is a collection of snippets of interest, opinions and useful info on learning Spanish, volunteering and TEFL in South America (just Argentina and Chile for now but soon to include more countries)? click here if you are looking for our main site.