We often get asked about the differences between Spanish in Latin America and Spain.
Students are often worried that if they learn how to speak Latin American Spanish, they won’t be understood in Spain. In reality, the varieties of Spanish are somewhat similar to the differences between English spoken in the UK and American English.
Spanish speakers can all understand each other. Latin Americans watch movies from Spain, and Spaniards watch Latin American telenovelas (soap operas). The use of area-specific slang aside, standard educated Spanish is understood anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world.
This said, there are some differences, even between the types of Spanish spoken across Latin America (and in different parts of Spain itself!)
Perhaps the most obvious difference between pronunciation in Spain and Latin America is the “lisp” that is common in Spain. Legend has it that this pronunciation started with King Ferdinand, whose lisp was copied by the Spanish nobility.
Other differences include Spaniards pronouncing ce/ci and z like ‘th’ in ‘thin,’ whilst Latin Americans pronounce it like ‘s.’
Also in Spain, when the letter ‘d’ is in between vowels or at the end of a word, pronounce like ‘th’ in ‘thin’ but softer e.g. ‘usted’ is pronounced like ‘oos-teth‘. Whereas in Latin America, ‘d’ is pronounced like the English ‘d.’
Slang is probably the biggest area where there would be differences in vocabulary. Different Spanish speaking countries will have slang specific to that area. Every area also has its quirky words. For example, a Chinese restaurant in Chile or Peru is called a chifa, but you won’t run across that word in many other places.
There are also certain words which vary between countries, for example a pen in Spain is boligrafo but in Argentina it is lapicera. Another example is a computer in Spain is ordenador but in Latin America it is computadora. Yet, these differences are probably no more common than the British-American differences.
Here’s an entertaining video by 2 Colombian brothers about the different Spanish words you will find across the world (click on the below picture!):
A significant difference is the use of the pronoun vos in some areas instead of tú. Another major difference is that in Spain, vosotros is often used as the plural of tú (the singular “you”), while in Latin American ustedes is usually used.
Having said the above, learning either European Spanish or Latin American Spanish will not hinder you in anyway from being understood by Spanish speakers across the globe!