When starting to learn Spanish, students quickly find out that there are several ways to speak the language. A lot of Spanish dialects coexist throughout the world, which can sometimes be confusing. For example, a computer is called “ordenador” in Spain, whereas those who speak Latin American Spanish use the word “computadora”. Generally speaking, Latin American Spanish uses more words that derive from English because of its proximity to North America. There are several other major differences that are worth knowing, especially if you are learning Spanish from abroad, meaning your learning process isn’t necessarily tied to a geographical area.

Distinción, seseo and ceceo

When studying Spanish dialects and accents, there are three major categories which are described using the terms distinción, seseo and ceceo. Distinción refers to dialects that make a distinction between the sounds /θ/ and /s/. /θ/ represents greek letter theta and can roughly be associated to the English th sound, like in the word thing, for example. In these dialects, the words casa (“house”) and caza (“hunt”) are pronounced differently.

Seseo and ceceo dialects do not make any difference between the way casa and caza are pronounced, but each type of dialect pronounces that sound differently: either /s/ (seseo) or [sÌ„], a sound that is similar to /θ/ (ceceo).

Seseo is generally associated with the dialects spoken in Latin America and the Canary Islands and ceceo is mostly found in Andalusia, in the South of Spain. Distinción, on the other hand, is typical for most other Spanish dialects.

Saying ‘you’ in Spanish

In Spanish, there are 5 distinct words that are used in place of the English ‘you’. Some variations are used only in Spain whereas others are used in Southern or Central America.

Here is a short overview.

Personal pronoun Singular / Plural Language Register Country-specific?
singular informal Spain, Central and Latin America
vos singular formal or informal Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and some parts of Central America
usted singular formal
vosotros plural informal Spain (never used in Latin America)
ustedes plural formal or informal Latin America

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Main dialects

  • Spain

If you live in Europe, chances are you want to learn Spanish the way it is spoken in Spain. However, did you know that several languages are used within the country? Its official language and also the one people usually refer to when mentioning the language that is spoken there is called Castilian. Other regions of the country have regional dialects such as Madrileño which is spoken in and around Madrid and is the most widespread dialect in Spain.

In addition, Spain also has its own regional languages including Catalan which is used in Catalonia and in the region’s capital, Barcelona, but also in Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Basque and Galician are two other regional languages that are spoken in Spain.

The Canary Islands are located off the southern coast of Morocco and are officially part of Spain. The variant of Spanish that is spoken there is called Canarian Spanish. It is mostly influenced by Andalusian Spanish as well as Caribbean Spanish, but also bears resemblance to several other Latin American Spanish dialects because many inhabitants of the Canary Islands moved to the Caribbean and to Hispanic America.

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  • The Americas

Latin American Spanish is mainly spoken in most Central and South American countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. These countries all have their own accents and use country-specific words, but Latin American Spanish is a term that is used to differentiate this dialect and the way Spanish is spoken in Spain.

Peninsular Spanish (as spoken in Spain) is as different from Latin American Spanish as British English is from American English. Likewise, each of these Spanish-speaking countries have their own accents, just like the way the Irish speak differs from how Californians speak.

Caribbean Spanish is used in Caribbean countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and along the northern coast of Colombia. It is similar to the kind of Spanish that is spoken in Andalusia.

  • Africa

Did you know that Spanish is the official language of Equatorial Guinea? This country is located in Central Africa and was a Spanish colony until 1968. It is the only African country that has Spanish as its official language, although it is mostly spoken as second language. Therefore, the version of Spanish that is spoken there is heavily influenced by local tribal languages, which is why its pronunciation can be described as similar to French.
If you want to find out more about Spanish dialects, head over to YouTube, where you will find several videos that compare the way Spanish is spoken throughout the world, such as this one.

Regarding your own learning process, consider the reason you are learning Spanish before choosing which version you would prefer to learn early on if you want to avoid confusion – but remember that all Spanish speakers are able to understand each other, so you will be fine either way!

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