We all know the feeling… Just when you think you’re starting to get the hang of Spanish, you discover that there are lots of different varieties spoken all around the world. Cue a brief sense of despair at the thought of having to learn every different form of Spanish, followed by the relief when you realise that this only makes the learning process more interesting and enjoyable!
In this article, we’re going to be looking at 6 differences in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation between the Spanish spoken in Spain, sometimes referred to as el castellano, and the Spanish spoken in Mexico. As Mexico is the county with the highest number of Spanish speakers on the planet – around 121 million – we thought it would be a good place to start, and on what better date than el Cinco de Mayo? ¡Vamos a empezar!
1) Describing something cool as being ‘so father’!
If you’ve been learning Castilian Spanish, or have ever visited Spain, it’s likely that you’ll have heard the exclamation ¡Qué guay! countless times, meaning ‘(that’s) so cool!’. In Mexico, the phrase ¡Qué padre! is used instead, which literally means ‘(that’s) so father!’.
Mexico: ¡Qué padre está la ultima canción de Shakira! = Shakira’s latest song is great!
Spain: ¿Vas al concierto de Shakira? ¡Qué guay! = Are you going to the Shakira concert? That’s so cool!
2) Calling your friend your uncle
If you have been learning Spanish for a while, you’ll probably recognise the words tío and tía, meaning ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’. In Mexico, these words are used exclusively for this purpose. However, in Spain, they are also widely used to address friends.
Mira a ese tío. = Look at that guy.
¡Hola tía! ¿Qué tal? = Hey girl! How’s it going?
In Mexico, it’s more common to hear various other words, such as mano or güey, used to mean ‘pal’ ‘man’, or ’buddy’.
3) Speaking ‘Spanglish’
With Mexico sharing its northern border with the U.S.A, there is a strong American-English influence on Mexican Spanish vocabulary, particularly in northern areas which border the U.S.A.
Here are a few examples of some of these anglicisms:
- Alquilar vs rentar
If you’ve ever been to Spain, you may have noticed signs saying se alquila on the outside of buildings. This means ‘for rent’, and is taken from the verb alquilar. In Mexico, alquilar is much less common, and is replaced by the English-sounding verb rentar, so ‘for rent’ signs say se renta.
- Comprobar vs checar
Another example is the verb for ‘to check’. In Mexico, checar or chequear, more anglicised verbs, are used instead of comprobar, which is used widely in Spain.
Some more examples include:
- Computer: computadora (Mexico) vs ordenador (Spain)
- Fridge: refrigerador (Mexico) vs nevera (Spain)
- Hobby: hobby (Mexico) vs pasatiempo (Spain)
4) Perfecto or indefinido?
Although you may have already been familiar with some of these differences in vocabulary, you may not have realised that there are also some subtle grammatical differences between Castilian and Mexican Spanish.
In Spain, it is very common to use the pretérito perfecto (the perfect tense) when talking about recent past actions which are still related to the present.
Example: ¿Qué has hecho hoy?
This is the most common way to ask someone in Spain ‘What have you done today?’. However, in Mexico, it is more common to say ‘Que hiciste hoy?’ using a different tense: the pretérito indefinido (the preterite tense)
But don’t worry – this grammatical difference is quite subtle, so you’d still be able to make yourself understood in both countries no matter which tense you use.
5) It’s all about usted and ustedes
In Mexico, and indeed in some other Latin American countries, people tend to use the pronoun usted rather than the less formal tú, which is used in Spain. While usted is reserved for formal situations in Spain, in Mexico it is used to address most people, including close friends, and is not seen as being quite as formal. Because of this, the pronoun vosotros, the plural form of tú, isn’t as widely used in Mexico as it is in Spain.
Spain: ¡Hola, chicos! ¿Cómo estáis?
Mexico: ¡Hola, chicos! ¿Cómo están?
Note: In some Latin American countries, such as Argentina, the pronoun vos is used instead of, or alongside, the singular pronoun tú. Its use varies from country to country and, in some cases, the pronoun has a totally different conjugation to tú. Using this pronoun is known as el voseo.
6) Dropping the Spanish ‘lisp’
Undoubtedly the most distinctive pronunciation difference between the Spanish spoken in Mexico and the Spanish spoken in Spain is the ‘lisp’ sound heard in Spain. First of all, we need to clarify something here: this ‘lisp’ phenomenon is not a lisp! If it were a lisp then every ‘s’ would become a ‘th’ and that doesn’t normally happen! To explain this further, it’s useful to look at the 3 different pronunciation conventions in Spain: el seseo, el ceceo and la distinción.
La distinción, is the most common pronunciation convention in Spain, and refers to the way in which the sounds ‘ci’, ’ce’ and ‘z’ are pronounced with a ‘th’ sound when followed by any vowel (the tongue sticks out between the teeth). The ’s’ sound is pronounced differently, meaning the words siento and ciento are pronounced differently.
In some parts of Spain, particularly in the Andalucía region and in parts of the Canary Islands, you may hear two other pronunciation conventions: ceceo and seseo. Without trying to overcomplicate things, the less common of these conventions is ceceo, where both the ’s’ and ‘z’ sounds in the words casa and caza are the same: both with the ‘th’ sound.
Much more common is the seseo pronunciation, where speakers also pronounce the words casa and caza in the same way, but they pronounce both the ‘s’ and ‘z’ with an ’s’ sound. And in addition to the south of Spain, this is the form most commonly associated with Latin America, and it brings us back round to Mexico where seseo is the norm.
Let’s take an example: ¡Qué cielo tan azul! = What a blue sky!
In most of Spain this would be pronounced: “¡Qué thielo tan athul!”
In Mexico this would be pronounced: “¡Qué sielo tan asul!”
We hope that you’ve found this article muy padre! You’ll now be able to begin to checar your use of different pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary when speaking to different Spanish speakers from different places. ¡Hasta la próxima!