Spanish Variations: Spain vs. Latin America

March 19, 2013

Just as there are differences between American English and British English, there are differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken in Latin America. It's the same language but there are several Spanish dialects and varieties in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar throughout the different Spanish-speaking countries.

Pronunciation

The most noticeable difference between pronunciation in Spain and Latin America involves the letter "z". In Latin America it is pronounced like the letter "s" but in Spain it is pronounced like "th". However, other pronunciation differences are minor and do not affect communication between speakers of these two regions.

Vocabulary - Regional Differences in Meaning

In Spanish there is an ambiguity that Spanish-Variationsmakes certain words used in Spain not well understood by someone who speaks LA Spanish.  The issue is that different words can be used for the same thing, or the same word can mean one thing in Spain but something completely different in Latin America. I have listed some common examples below:

In Spain the word "carro" is a cart that you push or pull to transport things, whereas in Latin America it's an actual car that you can drive around in. A car in Spain is a "coche", whereas a "coche" in Latin America is a baby stroller.

The English term "computer" is an "ordenador" in Spain and a "computadora" in LA Spanish speaking countries.

An "avocado", is an "aguacate" in Spain and a "palta" in most LA Spanish speaking countries.

And a "potato" is a "patata" in Spain and a "papa" in some LA Spanish speaking countries, like Argentina.

Other words, like "pen", show differences also within the different countries in Latin America: it's a "bolígrafo" in Spain, a "lápiz pasta" in Chile and a "lapicera" in Argentina.

Grammar: "Voseo" and the use of "ustedes"

In Spanish, there are three ways to say "you": "tú" (informal); "usted" (formal); and "vos".

The use of "vos" and its corresponding verb conjugations is known collectively as "voseo". It's extensively used in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay and in parts of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Mexico, as well as in many other countries of Latin America. Even though it's widely used, "vos" also carries many differences for social consideration. In some parts of Latin America it is considered street language, appropriate to say but not correct for writing.

In Spain, there are two ways of saying "you" in plural form: "vosotros" (informal) and "ustedes" (formal). In Latin American Spanish there's only one: "ustedes".

I'll conjugate the verb "jugar" (to play) so you see how it changes according to each pronoun:


Spanish Spain

Latin American Spanish

yo
I

juego

juego


you (informal)

Juegas

Juegas

él, ella, usted
him, her, you (formal)

juega

juega

nosotros
we

jugamos

jugamos

vosotros
you all (informal)

jugáis

X

ellos, ellas, ustedes
they, you all (formal)

juegan

juegan

Example

So, to say "Who are you playing with?"

In Spain: "¿Con quién jugáis?"

In Latin America: "¿Con quién juegan?"

Although I have pointed out several differences, the great thing about Spanish language is that whatever variety of Spanish you speak and whatever speaking country you go, you will be perfectly understood!

If you are interested in reading more about Spanish language, have a look at my blog on what is neutral Spanish?.

Further resources on Spanish translation and localization

You may gain further insights into Spanish translation and related topics by reviewing previous blogs and resources written by GPI:

Globalization Partners International has created a more extensive overview of website globalization for U.S. Hispanic consumers in two white papers:   Website Globalization and E-Business U.S. Hispanic Market and  Website Globalization and E-Business U.S. Hispanic Market - In Depth are available in PDF format via a free download.

You may contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com or at (US toll-fee) 866-272-5874 with your specific questions about the Spanish translation and your project goals. You may also request a complimentary Spanish translation quote for your project as well.

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Comments

  • Judith Carrera FernándezOn Apr 10, Judith Carrera Fernández said:
    Actually, in some regions in Spain, we conjugate in the same way as in Latin America for the 2nd person plural, for instance, in some places in Andalusia and the Canary Islands.
  • R. GilOn Apr 15, R. Gil said:
    However, when used in Andalusia for the 2nd person plural, it is with the incorrect verb form. For example: "¿Usteded queréis jugar?" vs. "¿Ustedes quieren jugar?". So I don´t consider the first option to ever be used in writing. I agree with the blogger that in Spain we use "vosotros" for the 2nd person plural, and "usted/es" is only the formal way of the 3rd person singular and plural.
  • Kelly MaldonadoOn May 19, Kelly Maldonado said:
    I enjoyed the article on Spain vs Latin America variations. However, I disagree about the use of vosotros verb form in Mexico. I have never heard it used in Mexico (neither have family members living in Mexico).
  • Carolina PérezOn May 20, Carolina Pérez said:
    Hi Kelly, thanks so much for reading the blog and for your comment. However, it is not mentioned the use of “vosotros” in Mexico as that verb form is the informal plural form used for the pronoun “you” in Spanish for Spain only. Regards, Carolina.
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Marina is a native Spanish speaker from Rosario, Argentina with over 15 years’ experience as a certified English-Spanish translator and interpreter. She graduated with a dual degree in Technical-Scientific and Literary Translation and Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpreting from the Instituto de Educación Superior Olga Cossettini in Rosario. She has extensive experience with most well known CAT tools including the range of SDL tools such as SDL Trados Studio, MultiTerm, Wordfast, SDL Idiom WorldServer, Translation Workspace, XBench, etc. She has also served as a CAT Tool Instructor conducting an average of 50 courses and workshops for many associations, private institutes and conferences. Over the years she has provided Spanish language translation and interpreting for a multitude of translation agencies, Global Fortune 500 companies, Governments and NGO’s. When not working she enjoys traveling, cooking, reading and movies with her family.