Language lessons across the UK & Ireland

Call us! 0203 650 19 50 / +353 (0) 1 440 3978

Learning Spanish with Different Dialects, Part I

I started to learn Spanish in South America but then I went to Spain to work for a short spell and quickly realised that there are big differences between the dialects spoken in these different regions.
It is probably best compared to the difference between UK / US / Australian English, in that people from the different regions can understand each other but may have problems with some of the nuances.
Being a foreigner who has just begun to learn Spanish in a different part of the world it is even more difficult to fit in and find the right word, as you don’t have the cultural knowledge which others have. Let me give you an example. If a foreigner learned a little bit of English in Australia and then went to Britain he probably wouldn’t know not to call everyone “sport”. In fact, he might not even know any way to address people other than “sport” or “mate”.
Another aspect is the sheer novelty value of someone speaking with an unexpected accent. I am sure you would find it strange if you were in, say, Ipswich and a Mongolian came up to speaking with a Welsh accent. Yet this is probably the image you will present if learn Spanish in Latin America and then go to Spain, or vice versa. Anyway, these are the biggest differences I found between the two dialects.
1. Vosotros / ustedes. This is probably the main difference you will find, and it is one which is quite tricky to overcome. In South America the plural for “you” (i.e. when you are directly addressing more than one person) is ustedes, while in Spain it is vosotros. Anyone who has taken Spanish courses will know how difficult it is to learn all the different conjugations for each verb, and the thought of re-learning them just didn’t appeal to me at all. I therefore took the easier route of simply carrying on speaking the Latin way and never once used “vosotros”.
2. Bad language. This is quite a tricky affair, because certain words which are inoffensive in one dialect can be pretty strong in the other. In general terms, in Spain you will find that bad language is a lot more common place, and no one will raise an eyebrow at a few choice words. However, in South America, at least in some places, it is a lot less common and using strong language could cause offence.