Spanish is a language shared by many countries in our world, up there with other regional languages like English and Arabic. It's no surprise then, that obviously there are differences among some of the dialects. This page will go over the differences between things that are consistent (like certain aspects of grammar) and many that aren't (different pronouns, terminologies, and the importance of regional-specific study)

Not "Spanish", but "Spanishes"

As Spanish is spoken in almost all of Central and South America in addition to Spain as a first language, its reach is far. And as all language do, Spanish has evolved and become localized to each area that speaks it. While there are things like certain types of grammar that remain the same across the board, the fact is that many parts of the language are all unique to each place they are spoken: each country has its own unique dialect and terminologies, even for every day objects and ideas. So, just remember while there is a large degree of similarity, it is still important to concentrate your studies on a specific region or country as well.

Which one to learn?

So then, naturally, we turn to the question of which Spanish dialect to learn? As much as I could tell you something general like "Mexican Spanish will serve you well", the reality is, your local Spanish community may not be that Mexican at all. A problem with many foreign language classes these days is that the Spanish is to some degree watered down and not always regionally-specific. Mexican dialects may be a good start for some areas, but for example, you have a huge Puerto Rican presence in New York, or in Louisiana, you could very well be in "Little Tegucigulpa" as much as you are in "Little Cuba" in Miami. If you aren't sure about the specific makeup of Latinos where you are, a great way to find out is via our own US Census. Their FactFinder tool is indispensable for questions like this. You can simply plug in your city or county, and it will pull up a variety of information about the origin of Hispanics in your community. This should point you in the general right direction about which dialect "works" for your community. And of course, if you want life to take you somewhere else, be sure to do your homework!

Why Does It Matter?

Obviously you'll have different vocabulary, but does it really matter? It does, because each country has had its own history, and its dialect is a reflection of that. While to some degree, you will be understood regardless, having that understanding of what is spoken locally will only serve to enhance your ability to communicate, and to put those who you are communicating with in a more localized sense of community. Now we've been saying this all along, but there are indeed cases where a word can mean a good thing in one language, and something totally mean or bad in another. The pronunciation, as relatively easy as it is to grasp, can be different. There are some situations in Spain Spanish where the "s" sound is replaced by a "th" sound. You may also be aware of the unique dialect of Argentinian Spanish, where the double-l letter (LL) is pronounced as "sh". There are just as well places in Central America where the "s" sound is reduced or muted so much so that it isn't even pronounced!

There's also pronouns. Your classes and textbooks have probably taught you about the six pronouns...but do you know about when to use "vos" or "vosotros" in Spanish? In certain places, these are used exclusively! At the same time, if you're truly never going to use one pronoun, do you really need to bother learning it? Things like this should show you that you must be more considerate of the dialect spoken.

Are There Dialect "Clusters"?

While each country has its own dialect, countries like Mexico and Spain are divided regionally from a language perspective and certain countries are also able to share some characteristics. While this will not hold true across the board, you can generally think of these areas as existing together with a semi-coherent shared dialect. These should not be thought of as rigid and defined dialects, but rather, simplifications so that we can understand some of the basics differences. More often than not, it comes down to a combination of history, geography, and the people who live in each country that defines it best.

Basic Dialect Regions of Spanish
Central AmericanRoughly stretching from Guatemala to Costa Rica, including Honduras and Nicaragua as well. This is the dialect we focus on here. It has some overlap with Mexican Spanish. Central Americans have a sizeable presence in most areas of the United States and make for a good first dialect to learn.
MexicanWhile you may not realize that Mexico has a population of over a hundred million people (roughly one-third the size of the US population), it is the largest Spanish speaking country in the world. And of course, such a large population and such a diverse history means that Mexican Spanish has not one dialect but many regional dialects, each having their own unique geography, history, and native languages such as Nahuatl.
Northern SpainAside from a few areas at the very northern part of Spain, the overwhelming majority of Spanish spoken in Spain falls under the "Castillian" dialect of Spanish. This is the one most worth knowing, that is of course, unless your plans involve one particular state within Spain, and that would be....
Andalusian SpainAndalusia is in some sense, very much like the "Texas" of Spain. It has its own unique culture and traditions, and is the most populous state within Spain. Centered around Seville, it has plenty of its own traditions and is known across Spain for being the most unique dialect of Spain Spanish.
Caribbean SpanishesNot to be forgotten, countries such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico are all Spanish speaking areas as well. Their position in the Caribbean, contact with powers both old and modern, and unique island lifestyle give rise to a certain dialect of Spanish.
Andean South AmericaThese countries of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia share the Andes mountains and a common culture. As mountains have a tendency to form linguistic boundaries, the countries that have this mountain range have some similarity in dialect.
Southern ConeRoughly the countries of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay, this area shares a vibrant lifestyle along with an interesting dialect of Spanish, particularly strong within parts of Argentina and Uruguay.

Some Sample Differences

There are some pretty common words which can vary greatly by region. Even something as ¿Comó estás?, a Spanish staple can have its own regionally preferred greeting: in Mexico and some of Central America, ¿Qué onda? would work just as well. In certain dialects of Spanish, someone who is a "pensante" (thinker), is actually an idiot. However, that idea might not work as well as a "batata" (sweet potato), which would be the more likely expression in Caribbean Spanish, and yet, in Paraguay or Argentina, calling someone a "melón" (melon) would get the idea across best. In addition, nearly every country has its own expressions for describing people: "evil", "crazy", "lazy", and worse. Other expressions like ¡Dale! can mean anything from "C'mon" to "Enough!". This is but a sample, but as you can see, while there are many common words, there are also many regional-specific words that really color the character of real life day to day.

So...Surely Some Things Are the Same?

Of course there are things that don't vary too much which gives Spanish its useful side. For the most part, your conjugations will be the same as is the majority of the basic vocabulary. This isn't to discount the importance of keeping in mind the region, but rather, we feel we need to acknowledge that as you get along, you're going to need to be extremely comfortable using a certain dialect within Spanish, and we feel, in order for you to get more out of your program, you should be considering "Where is this really said?". To some degree, we will help you out with this site here, but we feel overall, remembering that Spanish isn't one Spanish but several "Spanishes" will make your skills all the much better.

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