Differences in Spanish Dialects

© Volodymyr Maksymchuk

Spanish is spoken in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

As you can see, apart from Spain, most Spanish-speaking countries are found in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean islands: Cuba and Puerto Rico.

But, the question remains, is all Spanish alike?

The quick answer is no, and yes.

Ask yourself this: can you, as an English speaker, understand a movie with British actors? Of course you can! So that stands to reason that a Spanish speaker from Spain will be able to understand a Spanish speaker from Argentina or Mexico, so the Spanish must be fairly similar. For example, there is no other word for ‘walk’. If you are walking, then you saying walking, in both dialects. Yet, there will be challenges with rhythm of speaking, intonation, pronunciation, and of course, vocabulary.

I remember when I traveled to Lafayette, Louisiana to visit a friend. His aging grandmother made us lunch and we had a nice chat around the table. Little did anyone know it, but I had a very hard time understanding her, and I spent most of the lunch nodding in agreement. To what? I’ll never know. Just kidding! But really, it was challenging, and I was quite shocked at how hard it was to understand someone else speaking to me in English… English that was only an 8-hour drive away!

So even though the language is 99% the same, you’ll have things like pronunciation and vocabulary that can throw you off.

Spanish – Main Grammar Differences from Country to Country

The grammar used in Spanish from Latin America and the Spanish from Europe is not that different, although there are distinct differences. The main difference is in the subject and verb-form used to match that subject.

For example, in Spain, they use the vosotros form of the verb to talk to a group of more than 1 person: “You all (you guys) are doing a great job today.” In Spain they would use the subject and verb agreement for vosotros, but in all Spanish-speaking countries south of the USA, they would use ustedes to express ‘you’ plural.

For example – “Do you (all) want to come?”

In Spain: ¿Vosotros queréis venir?
In Mexico/Central and South America: ¿Ustedes quieren venir?

Now, there is something funky happening in Argentina (and some other countries)… I’m not gonna lie.

“Vos”, in Argentinian Spanish (also Uruguay, Paraguay, Nicaragua and Guatemala), is referring to the “TÚ” (informal ‘you’); “TÚ” is typically used in all other Spanish-speaking countries. Also, special to Argentina, “sos” means “you are”, whereas in most other Spanish-speaking countries they would use “eres”.

Why did this happen? These are only my thoughts on the subject, but it’s the same progression that happens with any language that travels far and wide. Some things stick and others don’t. The “Ustedes” stuck in Mexico for the plural “you”. In Argentina the older form of the “you” stuck and is still used today (and in other countries mentioned above).

In Spain, they continued with “vosotros” for “you” plural, and apparently this word did not travel well, so Mexico, Central and South America did not continue using it over the hundreds of years of evolution of the language. Just as evolution always does, it evolves, and we’re seeing less use of “vos” in countries like Costa Rica, yet some cities there still find it common to use.

It’s like “y’all” in Texas and “youse” on the East Coast. We all have our favorite way of saying the plural “you” – apparently, it’s worldwide.

Spanish Main Vocabulary Differences from Argentina & Mexico to Spain & Ecuador

If you’re going to take Spanish classes in your office, home or with a live instructor online, make sure you learn where the instructor is from first. If you cannot find an instructor in your area from the country where you’ll be doing business (or people you’ll be doing business with), then I suggest looking online. Of course, every Spanish speaking will be teaching you Spanish, but if you are going to primarily be doing business with companies from Spain, then why not focus on the vocabulary and accent from there? We mention this because while there is a standard Spanish, there can be confusion in vocabulary that might take you a moment to figure out if you’re talking to someone from another Spanish-speaking country.

In English, Americans call the bathroom, well, the bathroom, and Brits might call it the lou and Australians might say the toilet. It will only take a moment to figure out the meaning, if you’re not from the same country. The same thing happens in Spanish. When I learned Spanish, I learned Spanish from Spain. When I moved to Mexico, people were amused with my accent and vocabulary, but we always figured out what each other meant, and in order to assimilate, and make myself more quickly understood, I learned the Mexican equivalent to all the words that made people furrow their brow.

Now let’s dig into the differences in Spanish.


Latin America English Spain
computadora computer ordenador
durazno peach melocotón
coger  to get something/to have sex (vulgar) coger
pastel cake torta
lentes glasses (to wear) gafas
jugo juice zumo
piso floor suelo
carro car coche

Spanish – Regional Variations in Pronunciation

In Spain, the letter z and the letter c (only when before i and e), are pronounced like the ‘th’ sound in English: lispy, airy, light. In all other Spanish-speaking countries, these letters are pronounced like the English letter s.

In the Caribbean, on the other hand, they seem to be allergic to the letter s, and have decided not to pronounce it at all! Not really, but they really do seem to avoid it. Take this common question: “¿Cómo estás?” There’s a letter s at the end of that verb. This question means ‘How are you?’ Yet in the Caribbean, they would leave that letter s off the word.

The letter J in Spanish can vary as well. My theory is that the closer you get to Spain, the more the letter J sounds like the R in French. It sounds like you’re trying to spit something out of the back of your throat. But in Latin America is sounds more like the English pronunciation of the letter H.

The double “ll” typically makes a sound like the letter Y in English. But in Argentina, instead of phonetically sounding like may yah-mo (My name is…), it will sound more like may zhah-mo.

If you are interested in supporting your employees’ second language pursuits in Spanish, will be working in Spain or Latin America, already are working in Spain or Latin America, or work with Spanish speakers, then now is the time to start learning Spanish. You will build a deeper connection and show great respect for their language, their culture, and their lifestyle. Ready to get started or interested in how to set something like this up for 1 person or 100 people? For a free consultation, contact us or call us at (800) 401-3159. Read success stories on our testimonials page.