SPANISH AND ITS VARIETIES
Spanish is spoken by around 500 million people throughout the world, and by 350 million as their first language.
It is the official language of 22 countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, Guatemala, Equatorial Guinea, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Venezuela.
In the United States there are 35 million inhabitants of Hispanic origin who speak Spanish at home. It has become the second spoken language after English, so much so that it is very possible that in the near future both English and Spanish will be considered as the two official languages.
Although this is not entirely accurate, the difference between Spanish spoken in Spain and that of Latin America, is comparable to the English spoken in Britain and the varieties spoken in the United States, New Zealand or other English speaking countries.
Since the language is spoken by so many people in different and far away countries around the world, it is only natural that it has developed in different ways. Variations can be found not only between countries, but also within regions in the same country.
The classical division is usually set between Spanish from Spain or Castilian Spanish as is sometimes called and Spanish from South America. Apart from this division, there are also variations from country to country in South America.
These variations are not so extreme that speakers from different countries or regions cannot understand among themselves. On the contrary, nowadays, due to the increased use of the internet and other media, Spanish speakers are more used than ever to the different accents and dialects from all around the Spanish speaking world.
Speakers from different Spanish speaking countries can communicate as easily as diverse English speakers can. The main differences between countries and regions are found in spoken Spanish rather than written Spanish. Accents differ and areas have developed their own slang or colloquialisms. These differences are not huge and can be learned as you need them.
The most noticeable difference between varieties of Spanish is in the pronunciation of the letters “c” and “z”. They can be pronounced in two different ways: like the “th” in English words like “thing” or like an “s”. The first variety is used in what is called Castilian Spanish and the second pronunciation tends to be used in some regions in Spain, like the south and the Canary Islands, as well as all countries in Latin America. Words like “gracias” or “zapato” can be pronounced in two different ways. Both of them are correct.
As regards of vocabulary, the big difference is in colloquialisms and slang. For example: the words for “mate” in Spain is “colega” whereas in Argentina is “pata”, in Chile “socio”, in Mexico and Uruguay “compadre” and in Panama “monchi”.
A misconception that stems from this issue, it’s the idea that there is a variety better than the rest. All varieties are correct. From a practical point of view, you might choose to learn with a tutor from the country you are going to be traveling to, visiting or moving to. This will help you get used to the accent of the area. But regarding the student’s accent, if the student is a beginner, the one you’ll have is likely to be that of your mother tongue, e.g, you’ll speak Spanish with an English accent, French accent if you are French, etc. If you are lucky enough to visit or live in a specific country you’ll gradually acquire the accent spoken there.
At The Spanish Machine, we have tutors from all around the Spanish speaking world. They are trained to teach Standard educated neutral Spanish, which is understood everywhere you go.
If your pronunciation and grammar are good, you will be understood no matter where you are.