As part of the UK education system, it is common for schools to teach Spanish from Spain, due to the proximity to the UK. However, many students who pursue their studies in Spanish go on to travel to South or Central America on their gap year, or work in companies that have links with Latin America. Thus, it is important to be familiar with the regional differences of the Spanish language.
Whereas Latin American Spanish and mainland Spanish have different accents, they are mutually intelligible, just as, for example, English from Scotland and English from Canada are different in many aspects, but are mutually intelligible. Accents and pronunciation differ from one Latin American country to the next, and also from one Spanish region to the next. However, there are some specific aspects that stand out. For example, in Spain, usually letter combinations such as “ce”, “ci”, “ze” and “zi”, such as “cero” or “cruze” are pronounced as “th” sound, such as in the word “think”, in English. In Latin America, these letter combinations are always pronounced as in the English “s”, for “sugar”.
In Spain, the subject pronoun “vosotros” is used and refers to the informal and plural form of “you”. Likewise, the subject pronoun “ustedes” is used for plural usage, but in a formal manner. On the contrary, in Latin America, “vosotros” is not used at all, and is replaced with “ustedes” which is not formal and is used in all plural “you” situations. Furthermore, the subject pronoun “vos”, which has the same use as the singular informal “you” pronoun, “tú”, is used in many parts of Latin America, predominantly in Argentina and Uruguay, but also in Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, among others. “Vos” comes with its own set of conjugations and is not used at all in Spain.
Spaniards tend to use the present perfect, such as “I have done” or “Yo he hecho”, much more than the Latinos, who tend to use the preterit, “I did” or “Yo hice”. Interestingly, this is similar to the fact that British English also makes more use of present perfect tenses, whereas North American English tends to employ the past tense – there may well be historical or linguistic links that have caused this inclination on the two continents.
In Spain, time is told by “taking away” the minutes to the hour, for example, “son las diez menos cuarto”, literally meaning, “it is ten minus a quarter”. In Latin America, the tendency is to use the proposition “para” to have the meaning of “to” or “until”, for example, “son un cuarto para las diez”, meaning, “it is a quarter to/until ten”.
Whether you are planning a trip to South America or Spain, it is important to know the linguistic differences so that these nuances don’t throw you when you get there! Before you travel, make sure you ask your tutor and get all the information you can on the specific vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar of the country you are visiting so that you can make the most of your trip!