latino vs spanish-min

Latin Spanish vs Spanish – What Are The Key Differences?

Trash or garbage?

Chips or crisps?

A flat or an apartment?

I’m sure you know what I mean. 

Even though English is just one language, it is not always the same. Every English speaking country has developed a slightly different version of it. 

Exactly the same thing happens with Spanish.

As you well know, this language originates from Spain, but during the 16th century colonization it spread almost to the entire Central and South America. 

Nowadays, Spanish is the official language in 20 different countries and every one of them speaks it slightly differently. 

OMG: do I have to learn all versions? 

Will they understand my Latin Spanish if I travel to Spain?

I get to hear these questions all the time. 

Relax. 

Just like a Brit can communicate with an American, or a Kiwi with an Aussie, all Spanish speaking nationalities can easily communicate with each other. 

There might be some confusion about word usage, or some idioms that will need a little explanation, but – in 99% of cases the communication should be smooth. 

What are these differences then, you ask? 

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Grammar differences between Latin Spanish and Spanish from Spain.

Vosotros

Without any doubt, the key grammar difference between Latin American Spanish and the so-called “Castilian” Spanish is the use of vosotros

The 2nd person plural is used only in Spain. 

vosotros sabéis
you know

vosotros comisteis
you ate

vosotros hablabais
you used to talk

These are only a few examples of how vosotros is conjugated. 

Now, when do the Spaniards use this form, you ask?

When they talk to at least 2 people they have an informal relation with. 

Who can be vosotros then? Friends, workmates, children. 

But not 2 new customers. Or your future in-laws whom you’re meeting for the first time. 

Nor a group of teachers you’re talking to. 

When you need to address 2+ people in a formal way, you ALWAYS, no matter what Spanish speaking country you are in, have to use USTEDES. 

Now. What do the Latinos do when they talk to a group of people informally?

Instead of vosotros, they use ustedes

Hold on. Does it mean that in Latin America you use ustedes no matter if your relationship with the people is formal or informal?

Exactly!

Check out these examples:

Latin AmericaSpain
2 friends
(informal)
¿Qué hicieron el fin de semana?
What did you do last weekend?
¿Qué hicisteis el fin de semana?
What did you do last weekend?
a group of clients
(formal)
¿Tuvieron un buen viaje?
Did you have a good trip?
¿Tuvieron un buen viaje?
Did you have a good trip?
3 children
(informal)
¿Quieren una galleta?
Do you want a cookie?
¿Queréis una galleta?
Do you want a cookie?

Oh, and the last thing about the vosotros form. When the group of people includes only women, vosotros changes to vosotras

Tú vs Vos

The great thing about English is its simplicity. Just one YOU.

But Spanish? Not only does it have 3 plural forms of this pronoun, but also 3 different singular forms. Tú, usted

…and the third one? 

Vos

And this is where it gets interesting. It only exists in certain countries of Latin America (namely Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile).

It also requires a different verb conjugation. 

Let’s compare:

Vos
All countriesArgentina, Uruguay, Paraguay
(Tú) hablas
You speak
(Vos) hablás
You speak
(Tú) eres
You are
(Vos) sos
You are
(Tú) tienes
You have
(Vos) tenés
You have
(Tú) puedes
You can
(Vos) podés
You can

Is vos formal or informal?

Always informal. Use it as a substitute to TÚ (with friends, family, people you know well). 

But never in a formal context. Never to replace USTED.

Juan, me podés ayudar, porfa? 
     Juan, can you help me, please?

Señor Giménez, me podés ayudar un poco por favor?
      Mr. Gimenez, can you help me, please?

Sometimes, especially in Chile, the use of vos can even be considered offensive or degrading. Almost as if you were looking down at people. So be careful.

I know you are probably getting dizzy by now, but don’t worry.

I know it all looks very confusing, but if you are just starting to learn Spanish, sticking to the TÚ form will do just fine. 

Here’s more good news: vos conjugates differently only in the present tense. 

Past and future are exactly the same like in

Key Pronunciation differences between Latin Spanish and Spanish

Oh boy. The so-dreaded pronunciation is on our plate now. 

Don’t run away! This time it is only to show you how the Latinos pronounce certain letters differently from the Spaniards.

Take a look at this example:

El cielo es azul. 
The sky is blue.

The letter “c” in cielo and the letter “z” in azul would make a “th” sound in Spain!

And in Latin America? 

A simple “s” sound. 

The same difference applies to words like:

zapatos
shoes

zorro
fox

cerveza
beer

and many others. 

Another letter that makes a different sound in Spain and Latin America is the double L.

lluvia
rain

llave
a key 

callampa
a mushroom

degollar
to behead

llamar
to call

Pronunciation 1: LL sounds like the English letter Y

This is the most common way to pronounce LL, and you can find it both in Spain and most of South America. It will make the same sound as the letter Y in words like buY, paY, staY

So lluvia will sound like yuvia

cuchillo like cuchiyo

and toalla like toaya

Pronunciation 2: LL sounds like the English J

In certain regions of South America, especially in Colombia and Venezuela, you can hear the same LL being pronounced in the same way as you’d pronounce J in English. Jam, Jason, Jungle, Jaguar.

Why don’t you practice for a while:

juvia (lluvia)

jorar (llorar)

cajampa (callampa)

Pronunciation 3: LL sounds like the English SH

In the Río de la Plata region (Argentina and Uruguay) our LL will make a different sound, similar to the English “SH”. 

Think how you’d pronounce the words: shoes, wash, shave, cash. 

Now, try to imitate the same sound and say: 

shuvia (lluvia)

shave  (llave)

cabasho (caballo)

Vocabulary differences

One of the most interesting key differences between European Spanish and his Latin American sister is how the same words can have a different meaning.

  • Coche – in most Spanish speaking countries it means a car. But in Chile, coche refers to a baby stroller and in Guatemala it is a slang word for a pig
  • Buzo – originally referring to a diver, has many other meanings in Latin America. 
    • in Chile and Perú it means a track suit.
    • in Colombia – a turtleneck sweater
    • in Argentina – a sweatshirt

Or, how the same things can be named differently depending on the country:

  • a strawberry – is fresa in Spain, but frutilla in Chile.
  • potatoes – are called patatas in the Castilian Spanish and papas in Latin American Spanish. 
  • a T-shirt – will translate as camiseta in Europe, but in South America it will be called polera (Chile), remera (Argentina), playera (Mexico) or flanela (Colombia and Venezuela)
  • coger – be extra careful with this word when talking to a Latino. While it is a synonym of tomar (to take) in Spain, on the other side of the Atlantic ocean in means to have sex. 

Examples like the ones above could be multiplied. 

There are plenty of words in Spanish that not only vary between Spain and Latin America, but also have a different meaning within the New Continent.

As you can imagine, it often leads to funny confusions and surprises. 

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Joanna Lupa

Joanna Lupa

Polish by birth, Chilean by the turns of life. Has spent 20 years in that beautiful South American country working as a language teacher and translator. Has taught Spanish and English to students of all proficiency levels. Passionate about languages, books, and traveling. A mother of 2 trilingual teenagers.