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- Differences in the Spanish Language Across Latin America
When traveling in Latin America, you’ll notice that the Spanish language sounds a little bit different depending on where you are in the region.
And not just by country!
But also by regions in a country.
Similar to how the south of the US has a different accent from those in NY or Iowa.
So on and so on…
Now, at the end of the day, that doesn’t mean that the Spanish language in one part of Latin America is so dramatically different that it’ll seem like another language necessarily…
Though, as I wrote here, some Spanish accents are easier to understand than others for foreigners.
For example, I find the Caribbean Spanish accent in places like the DR, Barranquilla and so on to be a little bit harder to understand…
Versus accents elsewhere where I find it easier.
Like when I was living in Barranquilla of Colombia…
I found it so much easier – literally 10 times easier – to understand people when I traveled to Pereira of Colombia.
Or Chile and Argentina!
And how the accent in Mexico City is so much easier also compared to the one in Barranquilla or the DR.
Anyway, the point has been made: you’ll notice differences in the Spanish language depending on which part of Latin America you are in.
Let’s cover some examples.
Pronunciation Differences from Bolivia to Argentina
Back when I was living in Bolivia for a few months, I remember how I was still getting a hold on speaking Spanish well.
Back then, the main issue was just getting used to listening to native Spanish speakers speaking in Spanish.
At first, speaking and listening in Spanish was like some robotic process for me.
Want to speak it?
You’d have to remember how to conjugate a certain word and start thinking in your head “OK, which one is it again for past tense?”
Which is perhaps a little bit funny putting it like that but keep in mind I had the Spanish grammar beat into my head many times over.
Still, there’s a major difference between speaking it in a fluid, on-going conversation in real life versus having the time to casually think out an answer on a test in class.
And then there is listening to someone speak in Spanish…
Again, there is a difference between a native Spanish speaker speaking as fast as he wants versus the professor in class speaking so slowly like she thinks the whole class is retarded.
So I was still getting used to that.
Anyway, when I was living in Bolivia, I stayed at two different homestays.
The second one was nice but the first one had a dad in the household who was a severely socially inept dick.
Just trying to be friends with the guy was challenge.
He had no social skills whatsoever.
But I remember how he remarked at one point about how I will have a rougher time conversing in Spanish in Argentina because “those Argentines speak super fast!”
Was he right?
Well, I remember my first day in Buenos Aires of Argentina.
First, I was impressed by how much nicer the city looked compared to any city I’ve been to in Bolivia.
So much more developed.
Second, I remember going into some ice cream store and asking for a cookie on the first day.
“Galleta” is the word.
Except, when pronounced like how most Spanish speakers pronounce “galleta,” an Argentine might not understand.
Well, this guy behind the counter didn’t.
I said it a few times until I remembered that they pronounce words differently in Argentina.
Where the double ll in “galleta” is pronounced like sh instead of y sound.
So that’s what I did.
The guy then roared out laughing “OHHHHH GASHETA JAJAJAJAJAJA”
Then he took my order.
But it’s not just how people pronounce things differently in some countries…
Accents are different in simple ways like people talk generally speaking.
Trying an Accent in Another Country
Back when I was living in a Colombian city known as Barranquilla…
I was dating this Colombian chick named Marcela.
Now, before I ever met her, I remember hooking up with different chicks in general…
And noticed that Colombian chicks seem to find it humorous when you try to speak in what they consider to be a stereotypically Mexican accent.
Meaning that, when you text a chick in Barranquilla, try saying things that are associated with Mexican vocabulary like “que onda,” or “que padre.”
Shit like that.
At least back then, I noticed that it was a good way to get a chick laughing a little bit and opening up more over text.
Engaging more in the conversation.
The same thing I noticed also when, years later in my first days dating in Mexico City, using the “vos” from Argentina worked similarly.
“Como estas?” She asks.
“Bien y vos?” I’d respond.
I don’t do that anymore.
In both cases, it was actually not me trying to make chicks laugh and open up in conversation at first..
But more just continuing shit I learned and got accustomed to after spending time in other countries.
Or just picking up vocabulary I somehow learned along the way throughout my time in Latin America.
But not everyone appreciates the different accent with its strange words…
Like I said, I ended up dating a chick named Marcela.
And I picked up on the fact that though she didn’t mind if I accidently dropped a random Mexican phrase like “que onda.”
But, in her opinion, the Mexican accent is a bit dumb
Not just with the words…
But how, in her mind, Mexicans speak like “they are retarded.”
Her words, not mind.
Which is ironic because she now lives in Mexico married to a Mexican guy.
Anyway, she always stereotyped all Mexicans into speaking like some stereotypical Cali girl or some shit.
Where they’d extend their words out endlessly or something and always repeat the word “wey” in every sentence.
Is she right?
In Mexico City, you do have some locals who speak like that.
I’d say most don’t in my experience but you do hear that once in a blue moon.
Maybe more if you go out often enough.
I remember walking outside once near Metro Chapultepec a few years ago…
And passed by some random dude who literally sounded like that.
Here’s a video of stereotypical accents in Spanish.
Though it’s not just Colombians or Bolivians who feel better about how they speak…
Mexicans, like anyone else, have their strong preferences also obviously!
Maria’s Black Iced Tea
The earliest example I can ever remember of learning about different accents and vocabulary by nationality…
Is when I was in high school.
I had to take 4 years of Spanish classes in school because they made us learn a foreign language to graduate.
Which, as a side story, is ironic that I studied Spanish because I actually wanted to learn French.
In the time, French sounded more sophisticated to me.
After all, who wants to go to shit ass Mexico? They got narcos and shit.
In France, it’s the first world!
Suffice to say, I wasn’t much of a “Latin America” guy in high school.
It grew on me.
But they made me take Spanish because room for French was all taken up.
In hindsight, I’m glad they made me take Spanish because there is no way I would’ve spent years in France, Quebec or random countries in Africa where French is spoken.
I’m OK – Latin America looks much more appealing to me these days than those places.
Regardless, I was taking 4 years of Spanish…
And I remember going to a Mexican restaurant in my home town.
I’ve gone to this Mexican restaurant all my life and know the owners well enough.
Now I remember one afternoon in particular where my mom and I went there…
And the owner, Maria, wanted to encourage me to speak in Spanish for my orders so I can practice it more.
On one day in particular, she took offense to me using the phrase “te helado” for iced tea.
Which was weird because I had used it for iced tea before without problem in her restaurant.
But now she wanted to make a correction!
“Nobody uses the phrase te helado, Mateo.”
She often called me Mateo – I never protested. It actually sounds nice to the ear even though I prefer Matt since I’m not Latino obviously.
But, being as much of a hard head as I am, I never back down when I feel I am right.
Even in situations where I am taking on the role of correcting a native Spanish speaker about how to speak Spanish.
Trust me, the hard headedness runs deep in the family.
But all I said was “well, they taught the phrase te helado in school. It’s in the textbook.”
She was holding something back, I could tell.
That sentence was all I said and it massively pissed her off.
She didn’t say shit though but you could see it on her face that triggered something inside her.
And she said something like “well, maybe in my pueblito, we speak differently. But te helado is something Spain uses.”
Then that was that.
Now, on one hand, it is true that maybe she feels some insecurity or shit about coming from a rural area of Mexico and not say Mexico City or some shit.
Some folks in Latin America can be heavily insecure about that stuff.
Hard headed and arrogant on my part to correct a Spanish speaker on it? Absolutely.
But I still stand by the belief that “te helado” is as appropriate as “te frio.”
And it’s not just Spain that uses it!
Years later, I remember walking around Las Rosas neighborhood of Xela, Guatemala that you can see in this photo here.
In that sketchy ass poor neighborhood, I vividly remember seeing a sign that said “te helado.”
So if it’s good enough for poor people in shitty ass neighborhoods of Guatemala, then it’s good enough for me!
Or something like that.
And I’ve seen that phrase used in many other places like Mexico City even in normal, non-posh areas.
Anyway, I also think this little story is also an example of how some Latinos are very set in their ways for how they speak…
And a non-native Spanish speaker speaking anything differently will be perceived as wrong even if it’s accurate elsewhere.
Because, to be fair, I don’t know if “te helado” is ever used in her “pueblito.”
But I’ll assume it’s not.
That doesn’t make it wrong to use – it’s just a phrase that is used in some parts and not others.
Though it’s not just the words people speak or the pronunciations…
Dominican Fast to Guatemalan Slow
Finally, you’ll notice some nationalities tend to speak faster than others.
In my time in Latin America, I’ve noticed that people often say that Chileans speak really fast.
In my experience, I thought they spoke fine.
Not too fast for me.
There is one area though where people speak really fucking fast…
And that is the Caribbean area of Latin America.
So like the Caribbean Coast of Colombia.
To the Dominican Republic.
So on and so on…
In my experience, I just notice that people can speak really fast in this part of the world.
As I wrote in this article here, I once was caught having public sex in a bathroom late at night with some Dominican chick.
After we finished, a security guard discovered us.
The dude gave me an earful!
He was extremely pissed.
And speaking as fast as you could imagine a Dominican to speak.
Literally the fastest motherfucker I’ve ever heard speak in Spanish.
But he stopped when I pulled some change out of my pocket – like 10 bucks – and gave it to him as a bribe to shut the fuck up.
Shut the fuck up he did.
On the other hand, you have folks say that other nationalities like those with heavy indigenous influence speak slower?
Like Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, etc.
The rationale is that, because you have so many indigenous folks in those countries who learn Spanish as a second language, then they speak slower.
I remember hearing that when I researched which countries to study Spanish in many years ago for a trip to Central America.
Which was why I chose Guatemala.
That and Guatemala was cheaper than Costa Rica and I didn’t have much to throw at this.
Is it true?
I’m not going to say yes or no.
In part, I think it’s bullshit because a majority of people in those countries didn’t learn Spanish as a second language.
To me, they don’t seem like they speak so slowly that it’s ridiculous.
Like the opposite of an angry Dominican.
But they speak slower than a Dominican, sure!
Though not so slowly that it was noticeable to mention.
And there’s one other thing that comes to mind briefly….
Venezuelans Cutting Words in Half
Some odd months ago, I was at a party and there was a Venezuelan couple there.
The guy seemed chill and friendly.
Kinda socially awkward but friendly.
The chick was very cute.
And seemed like she had a good time dancing with other men.
As a side note, that has always been a weird thing to me about Colombians and Venezuelans in particular…
How they seem chill with their chicks dancing with other men.
Seems like two countries full of cucks if you ask me.
But no judgement on my part!
If they like being cucks, that’s cool!
As long as I get to be the one fucking their gals.
Anyway, I got talking with the Venezuelan chick.
At first, she was slightly annoying as she took this as an opportunity to practice English with me.
I didn’t say shit against it but she stopped doing it after a minute when she saw I spoke enough Spanish.
But while we were speaking Spanish…
I noticed something peculiar about her way of speaking that I haven’t seen in a long ass time.
Ever since I arrived to Mexico City years ago anyhow.
In which she would basically cut her words in half.
Para became pa.
Mujer became muje.
Shit like that.
And, like costal Colombians from the Caribbean area, she liked to cut the “s” at the end of her words.
Seemingly making them not plural anymore even though, in context, they are.
That is one other thing you’ll notice about some nationalities down here…
And, to be fair, it’s more like certain regional accents in some nationalities.
Like I’d say that Colombians do this also…
But I’ve met plenty of Colombians who don’t.
Either way, when speaking with a native Spanish speaker, keep in mind that some will do that.
At first, it caught me off guard when she was speaking like that because I haven’t heard a local speak like that in a while.
But once I noticed that was what she was doing, then it became no problem.
There are so many other things I could’ve mentioned.
Like how, from my understanding, they use vosotros in Chile if I remember right.
Or other differences in slang for example.
Or how “Spanglish” is used more often in some areas than others.
Or, as I wrote here, how you’ll notice influences from other languages like indigenous languages in the Spanish language in some parts of Latin America more than others.
Anyway, these are just some of the examples you’ll notice of how the Spanish language will have its differences depending on which countries you visit.
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Thanks for reading.