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Which Spanish Do You Speak?

Like English, Spanish is a global language, but its usage varies from country to country. This doesnít mean that a Spaniard wouldnít understand a Mexican, or vice versa, but it is true that communication may be more difficult; not so much because of grammar, but because of vocabulary. The grammar is significantly different, regarding the use of tense and aspect, but somehow communication remains fluid. Vocabulary is a different issue, however. You can surmise what a speaker means if you know the lexicon, no matter what tense that person uses. If you simply donít know what a word means, the guess is more difficult, and you may misunderstand or not make sense at all of what that speaker has said.

When learning the Spanish language, it is very important that you are aware of its variants. Most people might choose to follow one variant, but it is even better to study them all Ė insofar as the Global Village continues to grow. The demand now is to be open to different accents, not only in terms of pronunciation, but also regarding vocabulary and grammar, and even common usage. Whether itís a Colombian, a Mexican or a Castilian (Spain) accent, for instance, it is worthwhile to distinguish important differences between them. Learners should focus on one version and develop their Spanish based on that variant; but I recommend that at least they learn differences between Latin American and Castilian Spanish.

This approach will make your Spanish more complete, and youíll be able to speak fluently no matter if you are in Spain or in Colombia. It will also avoid embarrassing situations. Imagine that a foreigner asks an American for a rubber. The foreignerís English is of the British variety, so of course that person is asking for an eraser, but that person may be laughed at because of the meaning of that word (i.e. condom) in America. Likewise, if you can use Spanish contextually, it will sound great to local native ears. For example, it would be odd to hear carro or plata in Spain when referring to car and money, which a Spaniard would usually call coche and dinero. This is partly because we use those words for different items; carro, for instance, is a wagon, so it sounds somewhat funny. If you are in Mexico, the opposite will probably happen. If you talk about carro and plata, that would be perfectly normal, and you wonít be pointed out as a foreigner.

It may not be a problem to make yourself understood in most occasions, but Spanish grammar remains important because it might lead to miscomprehension too. For example, a Latin American would say something like Estamos felices que vosotros/ustedes van a venir; a Spaniard would use a completely different construction to express the same idea: Nos alegramos de que vayŠis a venir. If you are familiar with both variants, youíll be able to understand, youíll be able to modify your Spanish to facilitate communication, and moreover youíll be acknowledged as a skilled communicator.

Submitted by:

Silvia Lopez-Cepero

Silvia Lopez-Cepero is a linguist who co-operates www.spanish101.org, a consumer review & learning support website for people who are learning or want to learn Spanish.

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