All about Spanish

How to Avoid Misunderstanding a Dialect in Spanish

When thinking about variants of the same language, only the differences between British and American English come to mind, but if you think about Spanish, the picture of dialects and variants is even more diverse.

Even within Spain itself, one can tell a lot of dialects (in addition to the four official languages!). The ability to aurally understand not only those who speak “classic” Spanish but also speakers of various dialects is an important step of a Spanish translator on the way from the Intermedio to the Superior level.


Variety of Dialects

Let’s consider the most common Spanish accents and find out how many dialects are in Spanish.

  1. Castilian Spanish

The birthplace of Castellano, or Castilian Spanish, is the region of Castile and Leon in northwestern Spain. It is the Castilian version that we have in mind when speaking of Spanish as a whole, it is recognized as a literary norm. 

Of course, in Castilian, there are many words that do not occur in other dialects or mean something different. Here is a shortlist of words that you can hear only on the Iberian Peninsula and their Latin American equivalents:

  • coche — carro/auto (car);
  • conducir — manejar (drive a car);
  • gafas — anteojos (glasses);
  • piso — apartamento (flat);
  • zumo — jugo (juice).
  1. Andalusian Spanish

The Andalusian accent changes from ceceo to seseo — the interdental sounds and together with them the sounds [d] and [r] between two vowels disappear (pesado sounds like pesao, he acabado — like he acabao, quieres — like quies).

  1. Spanish in Mexico

This Spanish dialect is easy to hear in California. The main factors influencing this variant are the Uto-Aztecan Nahuatl language, the Mayan Tzotzil language, and American English. The influence of native American languages is so significant that dictionaries of “mexicanisms” are produced: they translate the Mexican names of everyday objects into common Spanish.

  1. Rioplatense Spanish

In Argentina and, in part, Uruguay and Paraguay, a special national version of the Spanish language was formed, called el español rioplatense — named after the River La Plata and the lowland, on the territory of which these countries are located.

The most striking feature of Argentine Spanish is the so-called voseo — a grammatical feature when the personal pronoun of 2nd person singular vos is used instead of the informal pronoun and the politely respectful pronoun Usted. The same phenomenon entrenched in Spanish spoken in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Honduras.

  1. Spanish in Central America

Here, the territorial proximity plays a huge role: Spanish in Guatemala is very similar to Mexican Spanish, and in Panamanian Spanish, there are many parallels with Spanish in Colombia. A striking distinguishing feature is Voseo by analogy with the Argentinean accent. Features of Spanish in Costa Rica can be described in one phrase — pura vida. This may be a national idea and the answer to the standard question ¿Como estás?


To Conclude

This is not even a complete list of all variations. Dialects are an inexhaustible topic: they allow you to guess from just a few words or phrases where a person who speaks Spanish comes from. As you can see, each version of Spanish hides many subtleties and special features, which can be fully mastered only if you spend at least a while in a particular country.