Differences between European Spanish and South American Spanish

by Valeria Biancalani

If you have just begun learning Spanish, you will probably be wondering what the difference between European Spanish and South American Spanish is. This is a valid question and, although there are distinct variations between the 2 different forms of Spanish, the good news is that if you can speak Spanish, you will be able to understand either one.

However, this doesn't mean that they are the same. For this reason, when learning Spanish, it is always a good idea to learn the differences between the 2 types as well.

So, let's take a look at the main differences between Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Latin America.

1. Vocabulary

In terms of vocabulary, Spanish is generally a universal language with some differences from one region to another. You could almost compare the differences in vocabulary to the variations one sees in British and American English. For example:

Word European Spanish Latin American Spanish
Mobile phone Móvil Celular
Computer Ordenador Computador / Computadora
Potato Patata Papa
Fridge Frigorífico / Nevera Refrigerador / Heladera
Money Dinero Plata
Car Coche Carro / Auto (Argentinian)
To catch, to grab Coger* Tomar / Agarrar

*Be careful with the verb “coger” because it is used a lot in Spain and refers to catching or grabbing, but in Latin America it is a slang verb meaning to make love!

2. Pronunciation

Although you would be able to understand Spanish anywhere, the accent does vary from place to place. In Argentina double L (ll), which is normally pronounced “y” [j] is pronunced like “sh” [ʃ].

Central Americans also love not pronouncing “s” and often leave out syllables when speaking. However, possibly the most significant difference in pronunciation between Latin American Spanish and European Spanish is the pronunciation of the letters 'c' and 'z'. In Spain the letter 'c' followed by 'e' and 'i' and the letter 'z' usually sound like 'th' [θ], but in Latin America these letters sound like an 's'.

3. Grammar

Spanish grammar is generally uniform for both European Spanish and South American Spanish, although there are some differences worth mentioning.

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