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How is Spanish Spoken Differently in Different Countries?

Diana Bocco
Updated May 23, 2024
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Spanish is spoken by about 400 million people around the world, which makes it the third most popular language in the world, right after English and Mandarin Chinese. While English has more speakers than any other language, most of these speakers are not native and have a different mother tongue. If that is taken into consideration, Spanish becomes the second language in the world. Besides being the official language in 21 countries, it is also widely spoken in small colonies around the world.

This language has many dialects and variations. In Spain, where several dialects are used, Castilian is taken as the national standard. Castilian is also widely used in certain Latin American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and certain areas of Ecuador. Other Latin American countries speak their own variety, influenced by the local aboriginal languages and the flux of immigrants from different nations.

Some of the main differences in the Spanish spoken around the world are accent, forms of address, and the pronunciation of certain letters. When it comes to accents, the variations spoken outside of Spain can be divided in several general groups: Caribbean, Central America, North America or Mexico, South American, and RioPlatense, a specific variation spoken only in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

Spanish has two singular pronouns for the second person: (informal) and usted (formal). These are used uniformly around the world, except in RioPlatense, where a third form is the norm. Known as voseo, speakers of certain areas use vos as the informal variant. In Ecuador, vos is becoming popular, although it's not used in the media or outside the company of close friends. The use of different forms influences the accompanying verb. For example, to say "Come here," a person would say "Venga aca," (usted), "Ven aca" (tú), "Veni aca" (vos).

When it comes to pronunciation, the main variants of Spanish are the sounds of letters s, c, and z, and the y and the ll. In most Latin American countries, the sound of s and z have become standardized, which means it's hard to make out the difference between words like casa (house) and caza (hunt). In Spain, however, the distinction is strong, and confusing both letters is considered a sign of the uneducated class. The ll is pronounced soft, in a sound similar to the word "lieu" or, sometimes, the sound "iu," in most countries except those that use RioPlatense, where a phenomenon called yeismo occurs. There, the letter ll sounds like /ʝ/ and sometimes /Ʒ/.

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Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By anon982791 — On Dec 23, 2014

Yes it is true. Even in Vigan, Ilocos Sur and Laoag, Ilocos Norte, there were prominent and rich families of Spanish descent who spoke the language at home. They were called "meztisos". Then it gradually waned down because of the future generation getting used to speaking English (after 1898) and Tagalog or Ilocano as ever.

Right after college graduation, I was hired by the prominent Ortigas family with real estate and its development as their primary business. They are Castilians like the other successful Spanish business families in the country. During that time, the nationalistic Castilians would even opt to have their accounting books written and completed in Spanish language (circa 1971). I should know -- I've handled an accounting book of a business owned by one of the Ortigas family members. Then after four decades of absence in the country (I'm living in the USA now), I have found out (when I came back one time or twice, for vacation, that the generation now, whether Spanish or American (ethnicity), are fluent Tagalog speakers. How amusing and interesting to see and hear the younger generation of Ortigases and Smiths speaking Tagalog like you see them in Manila street sides (canto)!

By anon957487 — On Jun 20, 2014

I'm Filipino and I can speak Spanish. English is just more useful for business, education and travel unless you're in Latin America.

By anon341662 — On Jul 13, 2013

@anon1894: Yes it is true. In fact it is still spoken today but by a very small minority. Otherwise, you will find Spanish spoken with a mixture of local dialects collectively called Chavacano. They are found in the Zamboanga peninsula and some parts of Cavite (Ternate, to be exact).

By anon332138 — On Apr 27, 2013

@non163495: Try going to Zamboanga. The language there is closest to Spanish. In Manila, we have adopted Spanish words, but you would no longer recognize them because of the way they are pronounced. The last generation of Spanish speakers were perhaps those born in the '30s and early '40s. One thing that hasn't changed through the years is the way we tell the time. We most commonly express it in English, but we never say it in Tagalog. The terms we use are of Spanish origin.

By anon163495 — On Mar 28, 2011

I know and am around a lot of filipinos every day and never have I heard them speak spanish. I speak and I read and write it and I don't understand filipino so if it was so much like spanish why can't I understand?

Some words may be similar, like when they say "casa" or como esta but that's it and I definitely can't read it. If your grandma said spanish was spoken in the philippines way back when, it was probably spoken mostly by the Spanish from spain, although I'm sure some filipinos have learned the spanish language by now because we are all intelligent creatures and can learn anything.

By anon58793 — On Jan 04, 2010

Spanish was and continues to be spoken in the Philippines but of course not in the numbers that existed prior to WWII. The Tagalog language itself is comprised primarily of Spanish words.

By anon19169 — On Oct 07, 2008

Dayton - Spain ruled the Philippines for more than 300 years. In 1898, that was the year when the Philippines got the independence from Spain.

By Dayton — On Jun 19, 2007

Actually, your grandma is right. The Philippines were a colony of Spain from 1565 to 1821, and is actually named for Spain's King Philip II.

Though English and Tagalog are much more widely spoken, the Spanish influence is still there, and you'll see Spanish language words and names used quite often.

By anon1894 — On Jun 19, 2007

My grandmother says Spanish was spoken in the Philippines...how true is this?

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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