All you need to know about Iberian America

Linguistic Racism in Spanish: Some Accents Sound Better?

There's a specific argument you rarely hear regarding the Spanish language and that argument is that it is racist to say that some accents in the Spanish language are better than others.

Similarly, you have this argument regarding other languages as well, including the English language as you can read here with some key quotes below.

"Last summer, Triangle Investigations, a New York-based HR consultancy, examined allegations of accent discrimination at a global non-profit organisation. An Ethiopian-accented staff member had reported that his colleagues frequently interrupted him during Zoom calls, commented on the unintelligibility of his English and excluded him from meetings."

"Yet instead of embracing this linguistic diversity, we still rank particular types of English higher than others – which means that both native and non-native speakers who differ from what’s considered ‘standard’ can find themselves judged, marginalised and even penalised for the way their English sounds."

"These perceptions feed into linguistic racism, or racism based on accent, dialect and speech patterns. The overt form of linguistic racism can involve deliberate belittling or shaming, such as “ethnic-accent bullying” that occurs despite someone’s actual English proficiency. Or it can be more covert, like the unwitting social exclusion of people with foreign-accented English, or a seemingly well-intended compliment toward an Asian American’s English. 

These examples show that it may not be obvious to the perpetrators what they’re doing, because there are a number of subtle psychological mechanisms at play. Cognitively, it takes more work to understand a less familiar accent. The extra brainpower involved, as well as warmer feelings toward members of one’s own group, can lead to negative attitudes toward a person speaking a different type of English."

Of course, those are just a few quotes and you can check out the rest of the article as I cite it here again. 

At any rate, this is not really a topic that gets too discussed for a few reasons in my opinion.

For one, life in Latin America tends to be less PC and most folks in Latin America are not preoccupied with this matter.

Second, while Spanish is one of the most popular languages in the world, you don't have AS MANY non-native speakers trying to learn Spanish as English (though many do try to learn Spanish to be fair).

But mostly it's my opinion that the first factor is what influences mostly why people in Latin America don't discuss this.

In the same way you'll find more people in the US discussing if the term "Latinx" should be used versus actual Latin Americans born and raised in Latin America.

Having said that, I have encountered a very few number of people who claim that the following statement is racist: "the accent of the people in Bogota is easier to understand than the accent of people in this other area" as racist."

For example, when I returned from my first two years in Latin America and was finishing up my time in college, I remember talking with a Mexican dude named Juan who was born in Ciudad Juarez but basically spent most of his life in the US from what I understand.

We got talking about my time south of the border and, for whatever reason, we somehow touched the topic of accents.

And I remember saying to him that I quite liked some parts of Colombia -- such as Bogota -- because it was much easier to understand the people in Bogota than in other parts of Colombia like Barranquilla.

After 7 months in Barranquilla, it was like "Spanish on Easy Mode" when talking with LITERALLY anyone else: Peruvians, Mexicans, people from Bogota, etc.

So it wasn't even just a "Bogota vs. Barranquilla" idea that I had in mind.

More of a "Barranquilla versus everyone else."

Though, in those days, I had not been to the Dominican Republic JUST YET and I'd soon conclude that it actually seems to be people from the Caribbean area of Latin America in general that are harder to understand.

My general experience with folks from that region is simply that they talk much faster, chop up their words more, etc.

Though, on the flip side, they do seem to use more Spanglish in my experience and that does help a tiny bit in understanding them.

Either way, in the moment, I said something along the lines of "well, I like the accent from Bogota. Easy to understand."

Literally nothing beyond "it's easier to understand them."

And Juan seemingly looked a little bit offended in the moment or something changed in his facial expression. 

There was no intense argument though.

To which he simply followed up softly "isn't that racist?"

In the moment, I didn't think much of it because it didn't seem racist to me.

In fact, to this day, it still doesn't seem racist and, if I have to think about it now, I'd have to do some mental gymnastics to somehow try to find any way he could've found it racist. 

After he asked that though, I gave it a good 5 seconds thinking about it and nothing obviously racist about that statement came to mind.

It'd be the same as if you made a simple statement like "I enjoy the food in Bogota more than Barranquilla" and someone saying "isn't that racist?!?"


So I said "no" and I think, if I remember right (it's been at least 5 years), the conversation soon ended afterwards. 

There wasn't any argument about it though nor did he elaborate on why he thought that.

So, to this day, I wasn't sure what his thought process was. It simply stuck out to me as a weird question that I put away as something to disregard until recently another moment reminded me of it.

And, to be fair, almost no Mexican is that easily offended.

In fact, almost nobody else in Latin America would take offense to the idea of some accents being easier to understand.

Especially when you learn all the shit talking everyone does about the Chilean accent being so difficult to hear.

Or other cases of Latin Americans shitting on the accents of somewhere else.

For example, an old Colombian girlfriend of mine named Marcela used to tell me that "the Mexican accent sounds retarded."

Or that people in Mexico "just sound a bit slow."

Which makes since given she is from Barranquilla where people speak a million words a second.

No surprise there.

Similarly, I remember years ago having a Mexican chick in my bedroom spending the night (her name escapes me right now) and she REALLY liked my reggaeton playlist on Youtube.

But, for whatever reason, she GENUINELY could not understand this specific song by Tego Calderon.

Tego Calderon -- Pa' Que Retozen

The way he speaks Spanish?

Couldn't understand him apparently!

I remember her sitting on my bed listening intently to the lyrics and trying to make out what he was saying but, to her in the moment, it "didn't sound like good Spanish."

Was she a racist ass motherfucker?

Nah, she was cool.

And just recently, I was reminded of this topic again which is why I sat down to at least give it a solid 15 minutes of exposure given it rarely is discussed (and probably for good reason as I think the argument is mostly stupid).

At any rate, the incident at hand that provoked an article on this subject was literally nothing more than when I went to some "speaking" event a week ago.

Getting out of my new neighborhood of Tlahuac, I went to some random group event where you sit down with some strangers, "practice languages" and have a few beers.

It's similar to what I wrote here where these events -- at least in my experience in South America -- are less about language practicing and more about drinking and finding a nice gal to fuck.

Unfortunately for me, the event I went to seemed to be less about mingling and finding a nice Latina to fuck and more about people actually wanting to practice their speaking.

So I probably won't go back.

Still, while there, there was some German dude there that, through our discussions about Spanish and learning English (for the few Mexicans in the crowd), brought up the rarely sensitive issue of accents.

Nothing more was said then something along the lines of "oh, I've been around Mexico. I find people here in CDMX easier to understand than people in Veracruz."

Which, somewhere one way or another, led to the accusation of "racism."

Started with an accusatory "why" by some random Mexican gal in the group.

.....Was she from Veracruz?

I have no idea!

But, to be honest, I wasn't paying too much attention to their side of the conversation.

Was more talking along with some Canadian gal sitting next to me who seemed to be new to Mexico City and was asking me about Tlahuac and parts of CDMX to see.

But, in the midst of it, my ears started paying more attention to the German-Mexicana conversation as I picked up on some minor tension.

And, while she didn't directly say to him "you're racist," she ended up going on some mini monologue about what he said, no accent is better than the other or whatever the fuck else.

One of those moments of someone going on a mini SJW monologue and you begin fading out of the conversation thinking "fuck, the autism is strong today ...."

Before you know it, your head is looking all around your surroundings as you begin pondering bigger and more important questions.

"Should I get another beer?"

"Did I leave the stove on?"

"How big is this Canadian girl's tits?"

All equally important questions!

At any rate, it was clear that the Mexican girl thought his statement of "it's easier to understand chilangos than people from Veracruz" as racist.

And, to be fair to the German dude, he didn't mean that people in Veracruz "sound worse."

Only that he has a harder time understanding them.

Which, at the same, I do find strange myself because, out of the few folks I met from Veracruz, they aren't difficult really to understand.

Regardless, he finds them harder to understand and that's it.

It might've been the case, if I had to guess, that the chick only got offended because of maybe one of the following theories I have:

1. She is from Veracruz.

2. Or maybe she thought he was saying chilangos speak better Spanish because he must've been thinking about those upper class white fresa types in Polanco versus some of the black Mexicans you find in Veracruz.

Honestly, I wasn't sure where she was going with the racism idea as she seemed a bit incoherent but, if I had to guess, maybe she was thinking along those lines in the second theory of mine.

It's a theory that I have that some of the very few who rarely claim racism in these cases are just assuming that we are only saying that certain accents are easier due to the "stereotypical" image of the people most commonly associated with said accents.

And that's me literally doing mental gynmastics to somehow try to understand how some see it as racist to imply some accents are easier to understand than others.

Essentially just projecting their own insecurities and understanding of race relations in Latin America onto the gringo who says he finds one accent easier than another.

Which would be ironic in many cases as often gringos are less aware about race relations down here if they are new like this guy seemed to be.

But was he racist?

Is it racist to say that the chilangos are easier to understand than the people of Veracruz or that the people of Bogota are easier to understand than the people of Barranquilla?

Well, let's wrap this up with some last minute thoughts as I don't consider it to be much of a serious issue most of the time.

Final Thoughts

Like I said, I think the people getting most upset about this -- all 5 of them literally as I almost NEVER hear anyone say this is racist -- would be the same to use the word "Latinx."

Regardless, as cited in the beginning of the article, there are different circumstances to be fair that can be seen as "linguistic racism."

When it comes to a random employee not understanding well the accent of an Ethiopian speaking English, I wouldn't say that is racist.

In fact, if you can't understand anyone of any background due to their accent, that's not racism.

That's literally you just not being able to understand the motherfucker.

Speaking with your own accent is guaranteed going to lead to some people not understanding you.

I take it from personal experience -- as a gringo who speaks Spanish as a non-native language and has learned it for at least 13 or 14 years of my life (almost half of my life literally), I will STILL have moments where some random Latin American understands me perfectly until THAT ONE WORD.

Some random word that I pronounced in a different way with my own accent that sounds "slightly off."

Or, as I wrote here, sometimes you find older Latin Americans who don't want to deal with putting in the mental energy to understand a foreigner with an accent.

Those types won't even try to entertain a conversation.

They see your white ass about to begin a conversation in a touristy area (always a touristy area) and immediately wave you off with a broken up "NO ENGLISH!" before you even open your mouth literally because they assume that you don't speak Spanish.

Is that racist?

Not really.

The motherfucker just immediately assumes -- out of ignorance -- that you don't speak Spanish before you even try and just wants to let you know now "NO ENGLISH!"

I've literally seen that happen.

But, even if that rare type (and it's rare for someone to be that rude), I wouldn't say it is racist if the person doesn't understand how I pronounce a certain word.

In reverse, I also remember meeting a Mexican dude as I wrote here where he was trying to speak in English with me and I didn't understand how he was saying "Illinois."

Racist of me?

Fuck no.

He was just having a hard time pronouncing that word and it took him literally 50 tries until I understood it.

But, having said all that, I could see how, in some contexts, someone might find some real world examples of linguistic racism within the Spanish speaking community.

For example, when I was one time in Roma Norte/Rosa area, I remember going to a Subway.

While ordering my sandwich, some very obviously looking indigenous woman that was probably homeless walks into the place.

She asks to use the bathroom.

The lady behind the counter claims to not understand.

The woman asks again.

The lady still claims to not understand.

This repeats several more times or however much it was.

During the entire moment, I could -- as a non-native Spanish speaker -- understand the  indigenous lady perfectly.

Eventually, the moment resolves itself and that was that.


Yes and no.

Again, if the lady behind the counter truly did not understand, then it's not racist.

And I could see them not truly understanding.

After all, as I wrote elsewhere on my blog like here, it's not uncommon for some indigenous people in Latin America to truly speak Spanish as a second language.

As non-native Spanish speakers.

It's actually part of the reason why I think a lot of foreigners sometimes understand their Spanish better because they naturally tend to speak slower (like in Guatemala for example).

But, on the flip side, you could MAYBE see how it was racist if you were to assume that the lady behind the counter purposefully was pretending to not understand her.

But you'd obviously have to make that jump yourself as there's no evidence it was like that (outside of the fact that I, as a non-native Spanish speaker, understood her the first time without issue).

Another example of potential "linguistic racism" at work would be having the belief that a group of people of a skin color (any skin color to be fair) naturally speak Spanish better than another group.

And I say "speak better" instead of "are more easily understood."

I think the two -- as a non-native Spanish speaker -- are different.

For example, I would say that an indigenous person who is a non-native Spanish speaker -- while he might might be easier to understand for the reasons above -- is not a better Spanish speakers than actual native Spanish speakers.

Similarly, a gringo with a gringo accent would be easier to understand speaking Spanish to me personally because we share the same accent but that doesn't mean he SPEAKS Spanish better with perfect grammar and no errors whatsoever.

Having said all that, if someone were to believe that a native Spanish speaker is inherently a better Spanish speaker due to their skin color and nothing else, then that is objectively racist.

And, if we're being honest, probably some of this bias is not always consciously made by the person who holds it.

But just happens to be someone who sees a white Latin American and thinks he is "more educated" or "speaks better" naturally than the brown Latin American.

But, to be fair, the bias could be against any skin color but, if I had to take a position, there's more bias in favor of whiter looking Latin Americans on this topic regarding who is seen as "more educated" or "speaks better."

At least from what I have seen when it comes to who Latin Americans seem more biased into thinking who is "more educated" broadly speaking beyond just how they speak. 

Of course, "linguistic racism" is a broad topic and there are other scenarios one could play out where some are racist and others are objectively not.

Going full circle once again, I would definitely say that saying some accents are easier to understand is not racist (especially as a non-native speaker who just finds some accents easier than others) but if someone were to make such a claim only based on the skin color of those typically speaking said accents, then I could see why someone would see that as potentially racist.

Either way, on top of my head, I can't think of too many other examples to bring up regarding this subject outside of more stories of people (mostly Latin Americans) pissing on the Chilean and Dominican accents.

....Which literally nobody likes to fucking hear.

So I'll leave it at that!

Got anything to add?

Drop a comment below.

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Thanks for reading.

Best regards,


PS: Want to read an article that'll trigger the 9 people that hate the idea that some accents are easier to understand than others to some people? Then check out this article I wrote here on the easiest and hardest Latin American accents to understand!

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