Information about some of the differences between the Castillian Spanish of Spain (Castellano) and Latin American Spanish (Español).
Non-Spaniards sometimes affectionately refer to the Castillian "th" pronunciation of the "c" and "z" as a lisp.
Most commonly, castellano and español both refer to the language of Cervantes, Borges, Lorca, and Vargas Llosa. However, in certain contexts, castellano is used to refer only to the language as spoken in Spain, and español to the language as it is spoken in Latin America.
Are castellano and español really that different? Isn’t Spanish all the same? Well yes, and no. Like English speakers from the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the United States, there are obvious differences but people can still effectively communicate with and understand each other. And that is the function of language.
Yet what sounds right to one native speaker can sometimes sound strange, quaint, old-fashioned, or just plain wrong to a native speaker from another country. In the worst cases, incomprehension, misunderstandings, or arguments can arise as a result of linguistic differences, especially when it comes to slang. Nevertheless, the best rule of thumb is that good, educated language use is more often than not good and educated language wherever you are. Just be sure to allow for the differences that may arise.
Admittedly, talking of “Castillian Spanish” or “Latin American Spanish” can be misleading. Spanish in Mexico is certainly different from the Spanish of Argentina or Puerto Rico, and Spanish in Galicia diverges from the Spanish of Andalucía. Even so, Spanish as it is spoken in Spain shares many common characteristics that set it apart from Spanish in Latin America, and that is what we will briefly examine here.
Non-Spaniards sometimes affectionately refer to the Castillian “th” pronunciation of the “c” and “z” as a lisp; where in Latin America, this same “c” and “z” is pronounced as an “s”. As such, some words are indistinguishable in Latin American speech, “caza” and “casa” for example. Not so in Castillian Spanish, where their phonetic difference is preserved.
Here are a few examples that illustrate some of the differences in Spanish vocabulary than can arise with respect to verbs:
|Castillian Spanish||Latin American Spanish||English|
|coger||tomar||To take. Example: “Cogí el tren.
Tomé el tren. I took the train.”
In Latin America, ‘coger’ means
something else, and you would not
be doing that to a train.
|criarse||crecerse||to grow up, to be brought up|
|enfadarse||enojarse||to get angry|
|enfermar||enfermarse||to get ill or sick|
|pedir prestado||prestarse||to borrow|
In both Spain and Latin America, the informal, second person singular verb form is tú (you). (See the chart below.) For example: “¿Quieres (tú) venir a la fiesta conmigo? Would you like to come to the party with me?”
However, when you’re talking to a group of people, that’s when things get more complicated. In Spain, you would use the second person plural verb form, vosotros, so you’d say: “¿Queréis (vosotros) ir a la fiesta conmigo?” But in Latin America, the vosotros verb form is simply not used. There they use the third person plural verb form with ustedes instead, which would be: “¿Quieren (ustedes) ir a la fiesta conmigo?”
|First person singular = yo quiero.||First person plural = nosotros queremos.|
|Informal, second person singular = tú quieres.||Informal, second person plural = vosotros queréis.|
|Third person singular = él quiere, ella quiere.
Formal, second personal singular = usted quiere.
|Third person plural = ellos quieren, ellas quieren.
Formal, second person plural = ustedes quieren.
Slang varies widely from country to country and even region to region. To try to keep things clean around here, I’ll limit our discussion to directing you to Spain Expat’s glossary of Spanish Slang.
He insists on using the usted form with me...
In both Spain and Latin America, tú is the informal, second person singular and usted is the formal, second person singular. Generally, tú is used among good friends and usted in formal situations or as a sign of respect. However, the use of tú in Spain is very widespread and is used in many situations that in Latin America would require the use of usted. As an example, a very well-mannered Mexican friend of mine living in the United States insists on using the usted form with me. To my surprise, he even uses the usted form with his parents, which is fairly common in some Latin American countries. The truth is that I can’t recall ever hearing him use the tú form. I, a transplant to Madrid, insist that he tutearme (use tú) because we’re friends; yet he says that he uses usted precisely because we’re friends. Curious.
Here are a few examples that illustrate some of the differences in Spanish vocabulary than can arise with respect to nouns:
|Castillian Spanish||Latin American Spanish||English|
|billete (m)||boleto (m)||ticket|
|ordenador (m)||computadora (f)||computer|
|tortilla (f)||tortilla (f)||In Spain, a ‘tortilla’ is an omelette.
In Latin America, a ‘tortilla’ is a flat bread.
|melocotón (m)||durazno (m)||peach|
|patata (f)||papa (f)||potato|
|autobús, autocar, bus (m)||guagua (f), colectivo, micro,
ómnibus, bondi, camión, bus (m)
Castillian and Latin American Spanish tend to make different uses of certain verbal tenses. If you did something yesterday, you would use the imperfect preterite (also called the simple past). For example: “Fui al supermercado ayer. I went to the supermarket yesterday." But if you went to the supermarket in the morning, you would hear the present perfect “He ido al supermercado esta mañana" in Spain and the simple past “Fui al supermercado esta mañana" in Latin America. Castillian Spanish uses the present perfect to indicate not only the recent past, but in many cases where only the simple past may be used in Latin America.
Everything you'd ever want to know about sworn translations in Spain.
Ideas and resources to help you learn or improve your knowledge of the Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian languages.
A look at the variety of languages in Spain (including Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian), the status of official languages in Spain, and how to say some simple phrases in these languages.
Information on learning Spanish for foreigners and expatriates. Free options, schools and other ways to learn the local language are all discussed.