Speak Spanish Fast! Language Tips You Need To Know for Different Spanish-Speaking Countries
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The common language of Spanish, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, divides almost two-dozen countries. Some believe Argentine Spanish is the most melodic form of the language, others think Spain’s Spanish is the original and best, while still others point to Colombian Spanish as the most comprehensible and beautiful form of Spanish. (Colombian Spanish is the dialect used by Pimsleur Approach:
The fact of the matter is that if you walk around Mexico spouting Argentine slang or let loose with Latin American colloquialisms in Madrid, you’ll meet a few questioning eyebrows. However, if you stick with neutral Spanish, remember a few grammatical quirks and attune yourself to the local accent, you will have no trouble being understood.
For our purposes, Spanish can be split into four main dialects: Castilian, spoken in northern and central Spain, and three non-European dialects: Latin American (most Central and South American countries, including Mexico and Colombia); Rioplatense Spanish (Argentina, Uruguay, parts of Paraguay); and Caribbean Spanish. Here are some important pronunciation differences to remember:
– “The lisp”: In Spain, the letters z and c before i or e are pronounced like the th in “thought.” In Latin America, they are pronounced as s.
– The letter J: J is pronounced like the h in “hold” in most Caribbean dialects and much of Central America. In Rioplatense Spanish and Castilian Spanish it is pronounced more like the ch in the English word “loch.”
– Yeísmo and lleísmo: Yeísmo refers to the loss of the distinction between the ll and y, meaning they both sound like the y in “yellow.” This is common in much of Latin America. In Rioplatense Spanish, the ll and y sound the same, but are pronounced like the s in “measure” (zheísmo) orlike the French ch (sheísmo). Lleísmo, where the two phonemes retain a distinct pronunciation, is found in Castilian Spanish and areas of Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia.
– Intonation: Rioplatense Spanish is more musical than dialects elsewhere, thanks to its history of Italian immigration. Many Caribbean accents are partially non-rhotic with the r at the end of a word often becoming silent (as a New Yorker might say “butter” as “buttah”). Some Mexican Spanish dialects have a “singsong” quality thanks to the heavy influence of native languages like Nahuatl, a tonal language.
Spanish grammar is almost 100% standardized throughout Spanish-speaking countries. However, there are some quirks to remember if you want to show off the depth of your Spanish understanding.
It’s all “you, you, you”
Tú, Usted and vos all mean “you” in the singular. They are used as follows:
–Tú: Used in Spain for people with whom you are on a first-name basis
–Usted: The polite form of tú. It is gradually falling out of favor, but if in doubt, use it. You can only be accused of being overly polite or formal. If you’re told: “tutéame” (address informally), then revert to tú.
–Vos: Vos is never used in Spain. It is an informal word used mainly in Argentina and also in Paraguay, Uruguay and much of Central America.
–Vosotros and Ustedes: Both mean “you” in the plural, with vosotros used in Spain and ustedes used in Latin America.
Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish often differ slightly in their use of verb tenses. For example, listen for the use of the present perfect tense (I have left, she has eaten) in Castilian Spanish. In Latin America, “I left” and “she ate” are used.
While all Spanish-speaking countries drink from the same well of Spanish vocabulary, geographical and cultural influences have nudged Spanish vocabularies in slightly divergent directions:
When naming new inventions or technical terms, Latin America usually borrows from its North American neighbor. Castilian Spanish, on the other hand, is more likely to borrow from British English or French.
|computer||la computadora||el ordenador||l’ordinateur|
In Latin America, Castilian Spanish mixed with Native American languages, meaning each dialect is colored by the native language of that area. This is particularly evident in vocabulary describing animals, plants, food and beverages. Therefore, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with the Native American vocabulary strand of the region you are in.
For example, many words ending in te in Mexican Spanish are likely to have come from Nahuatl. These include coyote, aguacate (avocado) and chocolate.
In Paraguay, the majority of the population is bilingual in Spanish and Guarani, so it’s unsurprising that many Guarani terms are used in Paraguayan Spanish, like na (please), garufa (party) and zarpado (amazing).
Rioplatense Spanish is influenced by indigenous languages including Quechua (tambo – dairy farm), Guarani (pororó – popcorn) and Araucano (laucha – mouse).
Picture this. You’re sitting in a group of Spanish people from various countries. To break the ice, you turn to a lady from Seville and say brightly, “I love tacos!” Paling visibly, she moves swiftly away. Worried, you say to a Chilean gentleman, “Maybe I should catch the bus.” He looks at you with undisguised horror. Finally, your hairclip falls to the ground and you exclaim: “Oh, my hairclip!” The Mexican lady beside you reacts as if you’ve insulted her firstborn.
Therein lies the problem of using slang vocabulary. In Spain, tacos means “profanities.” In Cuba, guagua means, “bus,” but in Chile it means, “baby.” And in Chile, pinche means “hairclip,” but in Mexico it means the exclamation “damned” or … something stronger.
The safest rule of thumb is to avoid using slang with new acquaintances, at least until you’re confident you won’t inadvertently offend someone.
Still, learning slang terms can add color to your Spanish and teach you about the culture. Let’s take one useful example: the Spanish word for friend. Want to impress the locals in Cuba? Use acere. In Colombia, you could use parce; in Costa Rica, mae; in Chile, gancho; in Central America, cabrón; in Venezuela, chamo. These are just six of the 100+ Spanish slang words for friend!
Note: An awesome resource for Spanish slang is www.speakinglatino.com
So what do I do if I am visiting a Spanish-speaking country?
In short, don’t worry about it! The differences between the dialects in Spanish-speaking countries are somewhat comparable to the differences between British and American English. While there will be some words that don’t translate, thousands more words will.
Tune your ear to the local accent, check for any grammatical oddities, and if you really want to excel, pick up a couple of slang words. ¡Buen viaje!