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Spanish is one of the most common languages in the world. According to the 2021 list of Ethnologue, there are 543 million Spanish speakers in the world, making it the fourth most spoken language after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi.
One reason why there are so many Spanish speakers in the world is that Spanish is a common language in many countries in almost every region of the world. Not only are there a lot of Spanish speakers, but there are also a lot of dialects of Spanish spoken, and in this post, we’re going to look at what this means for you as a Spanish language learner.
Before we get into the different types of Spanish dialects, we should probably talk a little about what we mean when we talk about a “dialect”.
A dialect is a type of language that is associated with a particular geographic region that identifies the speaker as coming from that region.
If your first language is a dialect, it means that you grew up in a region where that language is commonly spoken and is the main means of communication.
Children learn a language by interacting with it, hearing it spoken around them and to them every day, and since a regional dialect is commonly the language that people use in the home and among family and friends, the dialect is the first language learned.
Many major world languages have several dialects or varieties, most of the time people who speak different dialects of the same language will be able to understand each other. Usually, the differences in dialects can be pointed out as variations in grammar and pronunciation. A regional dialect might also have certain words, idioms, and expressions that are different if not totally distinct from another dialect.
So, when we are talking Spanish dialects, we are acknowledging that the Spanish spoken by people who live in Mexico is a little different from the Spanish spoken in Spain, even though both consider Spanish their main language.
Spanish is classified as a Romance language, which means it evolved from Latin. Latin originated in Rome and the Romance languages are the languages that developed in areas where the Roman Empire held sway.
The Romance languages are basically a mix of Latin and some other common languages or dialects that were spoken by the people in the area. In the case of Spanish, it originated in Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, which is where Spain is.
Spain developed into quite the empire itself, spreading to the Americas, Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia. The Spanish Empire colonized these regions and they brought their language with them. In many cases, Spanish became a common language in the colonized area and, as the native population added their own words and linguistic quirks to the Spanish they spoke, they developed a Spanish dialect.
Spanish is the official language of Spain and the Spanish spoken in Spain and the rest of the Iberian Peninsula is thought of as Peninsular Spanish or European Spanish. It’s not the only Spanish dialect spoken in Europe or even the world, however. Here are some interesting Spanish dialects.
This is a Peninsular Spanish dialect that is mostly spoken in the northern and central parts of the country. It is probably the most common Spanish dialect in the Iberian Peninsula.
Castilian Spanish is the oldest of the Spanish dialects still spoken today and is considered the “original language” from which most other Spanish dialects sprung.
This is a dialect that is commonly spoken in the southern portion of the Iberian Peninsula. It originated from the region of Andalusia, which is one of the most populous parts of Spain but is also commonly spoken in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in Africa and Gibraltar.
When Spain was colonizing the Americas, many Spaniards from Andalusia emigrated to the colonies. This resulted in many Latin American Spanish dialects bearing more resemblance to Andalusian Spanish than Castilian Spanish.
Other Spanish dialects that resemble Andalusian Spanish are Canarian Spanish and Caribbean Spanish.
This is a dialect of Spanish that originated in the Canary Islands, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. Consisting of eight major islands, and some smaller islets and islands, they were conquered by Spain during the 15th century.
Now an autonomous community of Spain, the Canary Islands still have Spanish as their official language. Most will probably be speaking Canarian Spanish, however, which is similar to Andalusian Spanish with a few new words that originated on the islands themselves.
Caribbean Spanish is a dialect of Spanish that arose in Spanish colonies in the Caribbean region. It is similar to Canarian Spanish and Andalusian Spanish as many people who lived in those areas and spoke those dialects emigrated to these areas.
Speakers of this Spanish dialect are mostly found in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. This is also a common dialect in Venezuela, Panama, and Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
This Spanish dialect is most commonly spoken in Mexico, though modern migration patterns have ensured that there are large populations of Mexican Spanish speakers in both the United States and Canada.
Spanish first came to Mexico in the 16th century and is still an official language as well as a national language in the country.
Mexican Spanish consists mostly of Spanish words and follows many of the rules of grammar of Peninsular Spanish. However, it incorporates a significant number of words from the native tribes who made the area their home before the Spanish came. These tribes include the Aztecs and the Nahua people.
Modern Mexican Spanish also contains English words and hybrid words that mix English and Spanish. These words are understood by those who speak Mexican Spanish but could give pause to someone more familiar with another Spanish dialect.
This Spanish dialect originated and is mostly spoken in areas of Central America that were colonized by the Spanish empire. Today, Central American Spanish is mostly spoken in Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador.
This dialect is similar to Andalusian Spanish and was also influenced by both Caribbean and Canarian Spanish. There are certainly regional variations with some areas having their own words and slang expressions for things that are not what is used in other countries that speak this dialect.
For example, in Guatemala, they might say “agua” if they mean “soda” or “soft drink” while in El Salvador, it will either be “soda” or “gaseosa”.
Andean Spanish is a dialect that is spoken in the Andes region of South America. This includes western Venezuela and the southern portion of Columbia. Andean Spanish is also spoken in northern Chile, northwestern Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru.
It mainly developed from a mix of Castilian Spanish, Andalusian Spanish, and Canarian Spanish. However, like Mexican Spanish, the native languages of the indigenous tribes in the area also influenced the dialect, which some indigenous words becoming incorporated in what is now known as Andean Spanish.
This is sometimes called Rioplantense Castilian because it is heavily influenced by Castilian Spanish. This dialect is mainly spoken in Uruguay and Argentina’s Rio de la Plata Basin. It’s also sometimes called Argentine Spanish because it’s the most common Spanish dialect in that South American country.
Like many of the other Spanish dialects that developed in the Americas, Rioplantense Spanish has been influenced by the language of the area’s indigenous populations. For example, you might have heard of “gauchos”, the cowboys of Argentina. Well, “gaucho” is actually a Quechua word from the Quechua people, who are indigenous to the area.
This Spanish dialect is spoken in Equatorial Guinea, a country on Central Africa’s West Coast. Formerly a Spanish colony, Equatorial Guinea has Spanish as one of its official languages and this dialect is one of the most common languages in the country, spoken by about 90% of the population.
Equatoguinean Spanish is similar to the Spanish spoken in Europe but is also influenced by native African languages and by other European languages such as French, Portuguese, and German.
Most Spanish dialects, including the ones we talked about here, are largely indistinguishable from one another. A Caribbean Spanish speaker is likely to have no problem understanding a Castilian Spanish speaker and both will be able to carry on a conversation with an Andalusian Spanish speaker.
The reason why speakers of the different Spanish dialects are likely to be able to understand each other is that they will have a large shared vocabulary and will likely follow the same rules of grammar. The differences come in the little details, minute variations in punctuation, or in accent.
What might be confusing for someone who speaks Central American Spanish traveling in Mexico would be that dialect’s slang words or idioms. Most of these dialects developed their own unique “everyday” vocabulary which might sound strange or even untranslatable to someone who did not study the dialect.
If you are going to be traveling for an extensive period of time in an area where a specific type of Spanish dialect is going to be spoken, even if you know Spanish, you might want to take a few sessions with a native-speaking online tutor in that specific dialect.
An online native speaking tutor can coach you on the differences in pronunciation and help develop your Spanish accent to communicate better with native speakers. They can also help familiarize you with the slang words and idioms that are particular to that dialect and that you will hear in daily conversation.
Castilian Spanish, Andalusian Spanish, Canarian Spanish, Caribbean Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Central American Spanish, Andean Spanish, Rioplantense Spanish, Equatoguinean Spanish
Spanish is classified as a Romance language, which means it evolved from Latin. Latin originated in Rome and the Romance languages are the languages that developed in areas where the Roman Empire held sway. The Romance languages are basically a mix of Latin and some other common languages or dialects that were spoken by the people in the area. In the case of Spanish, it originated in Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, which is where Spain is. Spain developed into quite the empire itself, spreading to the Americas, Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia. The Spanish Empire colonized these regions and they brought their language with them. In many cases, Spanish became a common language in the colonized area and, as the native population added their own words and linguistic quirks to the Spanish they spoke, they developed a Spanish dialect. Spanish is the official language of Spain and the Spanish spoken in Spain and the rest of the Iberian Peninsula is thought of as Peninsular Spanish or European Spanish. It’s not the only Spanish dialect spoken in Europe or even the world, however. Here are some interesting Spanish dialects.
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