5 main differences between Latin American Spanish and Spanish from Spain

The Spanish language is so rich and particular that it allows for many different forms not only between different Latin American countries, but also among the different regions, municipalities or provinces that confrm those countries. 

Eventhough Spaniards and Latin Americans can understand each other perfectly and without much effort, the use of the Spanish language shows great differences on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean

In this article, we invite you to analize which are their main differences and where do these idiomatic and cultural discrepancies come from.

1- The "voseo"

The most distinguishable difference between the Spanish language that is spoken in Spain and the one from some Latin American countries – given that between them there are very distinctive uses of the language as well – is the “voseo“. The form “vos” (you) used in the second person singular (unlike “tu” – also “you”) is never used in Spain, while in Argentina and Uruguay – and in some regions of other Latin American countries –  the use of this personal pronoun is the norm. 

The use of “vos” in Latin America began with the arrival of the Spanish conquerers by the end of the XV century, since this was originally a more formal and polite way of talking to someone. In Spain this formality fell into disuse, however it remainsused by many Latin Americans.

2- The use of "ustedes"

The use of the personal pronoun “ustedes” (you – plural) for the second person plural (instead of “vosotros”) is another ones of the main differences between Latin American Spanish and the one spoken in Spain. Mainly in South American countries, the pronoun “vosotros” is never used, while in Spain – except for the Canary Islands – is most commonly used. On the other hand, the word “ustedes” is considered extremely formal, for which it is only used in special occasions or to speak about the elderly. The advantage for Latin Americans, is that by using the word “ustedes” in Spain, they will not only be understood but they will also be considered very polite.

3- The vocabulary

Linguists, semiologists and language scholars remind us continuously that language is constantly evolving, the users of the language modifiy it’s structure by using it daily, incorporating new laws and stopping the use of others. Therefore, the different countries and regions show differences in the vocabulary of their language. Some examples are: 

  • Teléfono móvil (España) / Celular (Latinoamérica) – Mobile phone / Cellphone
  • Ordenador / Computadora – Computer
  • Lavabo / Pileta, lavamanos, lavatorio – Sink 
  • Coche / Auto, carro – Car
  • Gafas / Anteojos, lentes – Glasses
  • Zumo / Jugo – Juice
  • Tarta / Torta, pastel – Cake
  • Calcetines / Medias – Socks
  • Grifo / Canilla, llave – Tap / Faucet
  • Frigorífico, nevera / Heladera, refrigerador – Fridge

4- Accent and pronunciation

At first, it is possible to believe that Spanish is pronunced and sounds the same in all Spanish speaking countries. However, beyond the signature accent of Spaniards, in Latin America there are many different accents, even within one country, like in Argentina where Cordoba’s accent is very famous or the different ways that certain letters combinations are pronunced in different areas of Buenos Aires.

For example, Spaniards pronunce the “Z” with a sound equal to that of a “TH” in English, just like the “C” when it proceeds the vowels “E and “I”. Meanwhile, in Latin America both “Z” and “C” that proceed an “E” or “I” are pronunced as an “S”. In the Caribbean region and some areas by Southern Spain the letter “R” is pronunced as an “L”. Additionally, in some provinces of Argentina and Uruguay, the “LL” in words like “llamar” (to call), “llave” (key), “lluvia” (rain) and “llanto” (cry) is not pronunced as a “Y” (like in most parts of Spain and Latin America), but as “SH”.

5- Bonus track: The greeting

The greeting is a form of communication, specially of the non-verbal kind. Therefore, before traveling to a new country it is important to know certain basic rules that are part of their communication and a respectful approach to others. 

In Spain, traditionally women will greet people with two kisses, while men greet women with one kiss on each cheek and other men with a handshake. However, in some Latin American countries – like Mexico and Colombia – women greet people with only one kiss and men will also greet with one kiss when greeting women only. In Argentina, for example, everyone will greet by kissing each other on the cheeks independently of their gender.

We hope you found this list of differences and similarities between the languages and cultural customs of Spanish speaking countries interesting. Thank you for reading!