Let Me Explain How European & Latin American Spanish Differ

avatarMille Larsen
11 mins read

We all know that Spanish is spoken in Spain as well as the majority of Latin America. But what many people don’t realise when they start to learn Spanish is that there is actually a huge difference between the two variants, I have been over this briefly in my Learning Spanish in Spain post, but this post will go into more depth about what actually makes Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish so different.

As a person who learned Spain Spanish to fluency, and then completely altered my Spanish to the Latin American variant, I know first hand what makes up the differences between Spain Spanish vs Latin American Spanish. This includes grammatical structures, pronunciation, accent, and vocabulary, so it’s no small feat. In this article, I will go through all of those things to highlight the main things that make the two big dialects of Spanish different. Thankfully, it is much easier and quicker to list the differences than it is to list the similarities, so it could be worse!

DISCLAIMER: This article is written based on my personal experience coupled with some research. While to my knowledge all of this information is correct, I cannot speak for everyone. Not all Spanish speakers, even from the same country, speak in exactly the same way. However, generally speaking, this is how Latin American Spanish differs from Spanish from Spain.

What is “Latin American Spanish” and “Spain Spanish”?

The first thing to note is that it is difficult to categorise something called ‘Latin American Spanish’. Each Latin American country has its own accent, its own slang, and some rules of its own. However, there are some things that almost every Latin American Spanish speaker has in common, which differ from the majority of Spain Spanish speakers. So, when I talk about “Latin American Spanish”, I mean the features of Spanish that are generally shared by Spanish speakers in Latin America. When I say “Spain Spanish” that is referring to the features common in almost all the Spanish spoken in Spain.

Latin american Spanish vs Spain Spanish: grammar and phonology

The main noticeable structural and phonological differences between Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish are as follows. Please note that slang and accents are a separate topic and are not covered here.

Latin America Spain
Second person plural Latin Americans say ustedes to mean ‘you’ in the plural form. They use the same word for both formal and informal situations. E.g: Ustedes son mis mejores amigos. You guys are my best friends. In informal situations, Spanish people will use and conjugate vosotros to speak directly to a group of two or more people. They still use ustedes for formal situations. E.g: Vosotros queréis comer afuera hoy? Do you guys want to eat out today?
Past tense Latin Americans use the past tense much like we do in English. Whether something happened 5 minutes or 5 years ago, they will use the past preterite form. E.g: Hace cinco minutos rompí el cartón de leche. Five minutes ago I broke the milk carton. In Spain, if something has happened in the same day, present perfect tense is used. If something happened before the present day, past preterite will be used. E.g: Jorge me ha llamado al comienzo de la clase. Jorge called me when class started.
Pronunciation of -c and -z In Latin America, the letter -c followed by -i or -e as well as the letter -z and the letter -s are all pronounced like the English –s. E.g: cereza (cherry) = seresa In most parts of Spain, the letter -c when followed by -i or -e, and the letter -z are pronounced like the English -th as in ‘thanks’ (IPA: θ). The letter -s is still pronounced the same as the English -s. E.g Barcelona = Barthelona

Latin American Spanish Differences by country

Each Latin American country has its own version of Spanish with its own peculiarities. In Mexico’s case, they have a lot of unique slang, whereas the “paisas” of Colombia have a very distinct accent. In this article, I will be focusing more on the structural (grammatical) and the phonological (sound) differences. I have not listed all of the countries’ differences, but rather the ones I am most familiar with. If you know of more, feel free to comment below.

Uruguayan and Argentinan Spanish differences

Voseo: Uruguayans and Argentinians use vos instead of

Instead of , which is the standard second person pronoun in Spanish, Argentinians (as well as Uruguayans and some other Latin Americans) use vos. Vos is more than just a different word, it also has its own conjugations in the present and imperative. It is very similar to the conjugation of , but the stress of the word is moved to the last syllable instead of the penultimate syllable.

E.g: vos hablás = tú hablas (you speak) – notice the accent on the vos form.

Shh: Uruguayans and argentinians have a “sh” sound

While no other Spanish dialects really use the -sh sound, Argentinian and Uruguayan Spanish does. Instead of making a -y sound, their -y and -ll sound like the English -sh (phonetics: ʃ).

E.g: ‘calle’(street) becomes ‘cashe’ and ‘yo’ (I) becomes ‘sho’.

Peruvian Spanish differences

Vuestro: Peruvians have remnants of vosotros remaining

Peruvians, like other Latin Americans, generally use ustedes form when talking to a group of people. However, they still use the possession pronoun vuestro which stems from vosotros (and is also used in Spain).

E.g: Este carro es vuestro = este carro es de ustedes (This is your (plural) car.)

Colombian Spanish differences

Formality: Colombians use formal address

Colombians are either the most formal and polite people in the Spanish speaking world, or they just use usted differently to everyone else. While usted is generally considered a formal address in the Spanish speaking world, in some parts of Colombia, it is not uncommon to hear people using usted to speak to their parents, children, siblings, and even pets. However, Colombia has a more formal form of address still. Because they have de-formalised usted, they tend to say l_a señora/el señor_ (depending whether the person is female or male) when addressing someone formally.

E.g: ¿De dónde viene el señor? = ¿De dónde viene usted? (Where do you come from?)

Vos vs : Colombia has both

In some parts of Colombia, it is common to use vos in place of , but is still widely used and understood. So, in other words, Colombia uses almost every form of address imaginable and everyone gets on just fine.

Chilean Spanish differences

Cutting consonants: Chileans shorten their words

The Chilean accent can be quite hard to understand for most outsiders, even native Spanish-speaking ones. The main thing that causes this difficulty is that they tend to leave out consonants in many cases, shortening words and rendering them unrecognisable. For example, they aspirate the -s so that it’s hard to hear when it’s at the end of a syllable. They also drop the -d in words ending in ado/a or ido/a. There are many more cases of this consonant dropping – you can find some more examples in this article I found. To make matters worse, Chileans also use a lot of slang.

E.g: diji’te que me iba’ a llamar = dijiste que me ibas a llamar (you said you were gonna call)

Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish Word differences

One of the biggest differences and the one thing that sometimes causes comprehension problems between Spain Spanish speakers and Latin American Spanish speakers is the different words that they use for the same thing. Psst: if you want to focus on words in your Spanish, check out the best resources to learn Spanish vocab.

This list lets you know which words are used differently in Spain than they are in Latin America. There are some things you should keep in mind while going through this list, though.

There are many more word variations across Latin America

The different Spanish dialects have many, many more words for the same thing than what is portrayed here. Some words vary between country to country, while others vary between regions. So while I have tried to list the words that are used throughout the entire Latin American region, there are undoubtedly some words in there that are not used in some countries. Click here for a more in-depth Spanish word list that takes into account country-to-country variations.

Most of the words are mutually intelligible

Most of the words listed below can be understood by practically all Spanish speakers, even if they are more commonly used in one dialect than the other. This is because there is quite a lot of interaction between the Spanish-speaking regions, such as sharing of media, music, and nowadays, even memes. So while you would definitely stand out for using the “uncommon” word, you probably will be understood.

Verbs that are different in Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish

There are many more verbs that differ between Spain and Latin America.

English Spain Spanish Latin American Spanish
To show Enseñar Mostrar
To get mad Enfadarse Enojarse
To stand up Ponerse de pie Pararse
To lie down Tumbarse Acostarse
To drive Conducir Manejar
To rush Darse prisa Apurarse
To miss Echar de menos Extrañar

Nouns that are different in Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish

English Spain Spanish Latin American Spanish
Car Coche Carro/Auto
Public holiday Fiesta Festivo
Lipstick Pintolabios Labial
Pyjama (El) Pijama (la) Piyama
Banana Plátano Banana/banano
Mate Chaval/tío Parcero/mano
TV La televisión El televisor
Computer Ordenador Computador/a
Money Pasta Plata
Sock (El) Calcetín (La) Media
Jeans Vaqueros Jeans
Pen Bolígrafo Pluma/Lapicero
Juice Zumo Jugo
Firework Fuego artificial Pirotecnia
Cellphone Móvil Celular

Adjectives that are different in Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish

English Spain Spanish Latin American Spanish
Cute Mono/a Lindo/a
Nice Majo/a Bueno/a
Pink Rosa Rosado/a
Cool Guay/Chulo/a Bacano/a/Chévere
Beautiful Guapa Bonita

Where it gets even more interesting (or confusing, whichever way you look at it) is how the same words used in Spain, when used in Latin America can mean something totally different. Take a look at the examples:

Latin America usage of words

Coche Coach
Fiesta Party
Platano Plantain
Mono/a Monkey/Blonde
Pasta Pasta

And vice versa:

Spain usage of words

Carro Coach
Festivo Festival
Manejar Manage
Plata Silver
(La) Media Stocking/tights

So, should you learn Latin American Spanish or Spanish from Spain?

Personally, I have found the Spanish pronunciation in Spain much harder to master than Latin American Spanish. Another thing to note is that Latin American Spanish generally uses a lot more English borrow words and phrases than Spanish from Spain.

If your first or main language is English, I think that Latin American Spanish is easier to learn, simply because it is more similar to English phonetically, grammatically, and lexically.

However, consider where and with who you will most likely be using your Spanish. If you learn one dialect and then end up using the other, you’ll just end up changing the way you speak over time anyway. So learn the one you think you will use the most.

With all the differences there might be, Spanish is still mutually intelligible between practically anyone. Apart from the odd confusion and being mocked for speaking with a different accent, you can still have an easy conversation with any Spanish speaker, whether you learn Latin American or European Spanish. So you will still be able to communicate – which is kind of the point of learning a language, right?

If you decide to learn Spanish from Spain, check out this post I wrote for more info.

If you decide to learn Spanish in Latin America, check out this great blog post I found.

Once you have decided what Spanish to learn, if you are still struggling with it, check out this post about how I learned a language fluently. Or this one about the best resources to learn a language online.

Have you learned Spanish from Spain or Latin America, or are you Spanish or Latin American? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or if you have anything to add to this!