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A Few Outstanding Differences between Castilian and Latin American Spanish

What are some differences between Castilian Spanish from Spain and Latin American Spanish? As with North American and British English, there are many more similarities than differences, and Spanish speakers from all countries can usually understand one another in spite of differences between continents, countries, and even regions. That said, this lesson will point out a few key differences between Castilian and Latin American Spanish that might aid your understanding of and/or communication with different Spanish speakers. 

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Pronunciation

You may have noticed that the letters "c" and "z" are pronounced with a "th" sound in Castilian Spanish in order to distinguish them from the letter "s." Let's take a look:

 

Muchas gracias.

Thank you very much.

Caption 88, Ana Teresa Canales energéticos

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Although it sounds like Ana Teresa from Spain says "grathias," you will note that there is no difference in the pronunciation of the "c" and the "s" in Latin American Spanish. To confirm this, let's hear Ana Carolina from Ecuador pronounce this same word:

 

Muchas gracias por acompañarnos hoy;

Thank you very much for joining us today;

Caption 37, Ana Carolina El comedor

 Play Caption

 

Yabla's Carlos and Xavi provide a lot more examples of this pronunciation difference in this video about the difference in pronunciation between Spain and Colombia

 

Vosotros/as vs. Ustedes

Spanish speakers from both Spain and Latin America tend to address a single person formally with the pronoun usted and use (or vos in certain Latin American countries and/or regions) in more familiar circumstances. However, Castilian Spanish additionally makes this distinction for the second person plural forms: they formally address more than one person as ustedes and employ vosotros/as, along with its unique verb conjugations, in less formal ones. Let's look at an example with this unique-to-Spain pronoun. 

 

Practicáis un poco vosotros ahora.

You guys practice a bit now.

Caption 105, Clase Aula Azul El verbo gustar - Part 5

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Most Latin American speakers, on the other hand, do not use vosotros/as and instead use ustedes to address more than one person, regardless of whether the situation is formal or informal.

 

O sea menos que los... -No, ustedes tienen que hacer dos acompañamientos

I mean less than the... -No, you guys have to make two side dishes

Caption 68, Misión Chef 2 - Pruebas - Part 8

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Although the teacher in this video, who is from Mexico, refers to his individual students with the informal prounoun , as a group, he refers to them as ustedes. For more information about the pronouns vosotros/as and ustedes, we recommend Carlos' video Ustedes y vosotros.

 

Use of Present Perfect vs. Preterite 

Another difference you might notice when speaking to someone from Spain is the more prevalent use of the present perfect tense (e.g. "I have spoken," "we have gone," etc.) to describe things that happened in the recent past in cases in which both Latin Americans and English speakers would more likely use the simple past/preterite. Let's first take a look at a clip from Spain:

 

Oye, ¿ya sabes lo que le ha pasado a Anastasia? No, ¿qué le ha pasado?

Hey, do you know what has happened to Anastasia? No, what has happened to her?

Captions 4-5, El Aula Azul Conversación: Un día de mala suerte

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Now, let's look at one from Argentina:

 

¿Pero qué le pasó?

But what happened to her?

Caption 92, Muñeca Brava 43 La reunión - Part 5

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While the speakers in both videos use the same verb, pasar (to happen), to describe events that took place that same day, note that the speaker from Spain chooses the present perfect ha pasado (has happened), which would be less common in both Latin American Spanish and English, while the Argentinean speaker opts for the preterite pasó (happened). 

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Vocabulary

There are many terms that are said one way in Spain and a totally different way in Latin America (with a lot of variation between countries, of course!). Although there are too many to name, Yabla has put together our top ten list of English nouns and verbs whose translations differ in Spain and Latin America. 

 

1. Car: El coche vs. el carro/auto 

Spanish speakers from Spain tend to use the word coche for "car":

 

Hoy vamos a repasar cómo alquilar un coche.

Today we are going to go over how to rent a car.

Caption 2, Raquel Alquiler de coche

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Although the word carro would instead refer to a "cart" or "carriage" to Spaniards, this is the word most commonly used to say "car" in many countries in Latin America:

 

Recójalas allí en la puerta y tenga el carro listo, hermano.

Pick them up there at the door and have the car ready, brother.

Caption 54, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 2 - Part 4

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Auto is another common Latin American word for "car":

 

El auto amarillo está junto al dinosaurio.

The yellow car is next to the dinosaur.

Caption 18, Ana Carolina Preposiciones de lugar

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2. To Drive: Conducir vs. manejar

And speaking of cars, while the verb conducir is the most typical way to say "to drive" in Spain, Latin Americans are more likely to utter manejar. Let's compare a clip from Spain to one from Colombia:

 

Ahora os vamos a dar algunos consejos que nos ayudarán a conocer mejor nuestro coche y a conducirlo.

Now we are going to give you some advice that will help us get to better know our car and how to drive it.

Captions 2-4, Raquel y Marisa Aprender a conducir - Part 2

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Usted sabe que para mí manejar de noche es muy difícil por mi problema de la vista.

You know that for me, driving at night is very difficult because of my vision problem.

Captions 50-51, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 3 - Part 2

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3. To Take: Coger vs. tomar

When listening to someone from Spain speak about "taking" or "grabbing" something, from the bus to an everyday object, you are likely to hear the verb coger:

 

Puedes coger el autobús.

You can take the bus.

Caption 6, Marta Los Modos de Transporte

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While you may occasionally hear coger in this context in some Latin American countries, it is less common and, in fact, even considered vulgar in some places. Hence the more common way to say this throughout Latin America is tomar.

 

Te vas a ir a tomar un taxi

You are going to go take a taxi

Caption 7, Yago 12 Fianza - Part 1

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4. Computer: El ordenador vs. la computadora

Let's check out some captions from Spain to find out the word for "computer" there:

 

Puede hacer uso del ordenador con el nombre de usuario y la contraseña que he creado para usted. 

You can make use of the computer with the username and the password that I have created for you.

Captions 23-24, Negocios Empezar en un nuevo trabajo - Part 2

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And now, let's see a video from Mexico to hear the most prevalent term for "computer" throughout Latin America:

 

El uso de las computadoras y el internet forman parte de la educación de los estudiantes 

The use of computers and the internet are part of the students' education

Captions 38-39, Aprendiendo con Karen Útiles escolares - Part 2

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5. Juice: El zumo vs. el jugo

Not only can we hear the Castilian Spanish word for "juice" in this clip, but also the aforementioned "th" pronunciation of the "z":

 

Sí, un zumo de naranja.

Yes, an orange juice.

Caption 26, Raquel Presentaciones

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Latin Americans, in contrast, usually call juice jugo:

 

Y jugo de naranja y jugo de manzana.

And orange juice and apple juice.

Caption 23, Cleer y Lida El regreso de Lida

 Play Caption

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6. Peach: El melocotón vs. el durazno

Many fruits and vegetables have different names in different countries, and one such example is peaches, which are called melocotones in Spain and duraznos in Latin America. Let's hear these words in action in videos from Spain and Colombia:

 

Macedonia de frutas. -Sí. Por ejemplo con melocotón

Fruit salad. -Yes. For example, with peach.

Captions 52-53, Recetas Tortilla

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Me volvió a gustar la compota de durazno 

I started liking peach baby food again,

Caption 4, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 7 - Part 1

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7. Apartment: El piso vs. el departamento/apartamento

Another set of words that differ significantly are the words for "apartment": piso in Spain and departamento or apartamento in Latin America, as we can see below in these videos from Spain and Argentina:

 

Vender un piso se ha puesto muy difícil,

Selling ​​an apartment has become very difficult,

Caption 39, 75 minutos Gangas para ricos - Part 1

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Tienes un lindo departamento, realmente. -Gracias.

You have a nice apartment, really. -Thank you.

Caption 27, Yago 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 3

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8. Cell phone: El móvil vs. el celular 

In Spain, you'll hear people talking about their moviles, or cell phones:

 

mi móvil funciona, normalmente.

my cell phone works, usually.

Caption 22, Clase Aula Azul Se involuntario - Part 1

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As we can hear in the following clip, Mexicans and other Latin Americans instead say celular

 

¡Eh! ¿Tienes tu celular?

Hey! Do you have your cell phone?

Caption 55, Conversaciones en el parque Cap. 1: No tengo mi teléfono.

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9. Glasses: Las gafas vs. los lentes

Many articles of clothing are called different things in different countries, and "glasses" are no exception, as we see via examples from Spain and Mexico:

 

Tiene el pelo gris y lleva gafas.

He has gray hair and wears glasses.

Caption 30, El Aula Azul Adivina personajes famosos - Part 1

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También tienes unos lentes.

You also have some glasses.

Caption 13, Conversaciones en el parque Cap. 1: No tengo mi teléfono.

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10. Socks: Los calcetines vs. las medias:

Let's conclude with the words for "socks" in Spain vs. Latin America, with videos from Spain and Venezuela:

 

Una chaqueta y unos calcetines también... calientes.

A jacket and some socks, too... warm ones.

Caption 25, Un Viaje a Mallorca Planificando el viaje

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Además, esos animales huelen peor que mis medias después de una patinata.

Besides, those animals smell worse than my socks after a skating spree.

Captions 10-11, NPS No puede ser 1 - El concurso - Part 11

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To hear even more examples of vocabulary that differs from Spain to Latin America, we recommend Carlos and Xavi's video on some differences in vocabulary between Spain and Colombia. We hope you've enjoyed this lesson, and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments

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The Essential Spanish Question Words

How many question words in Spanish are you familiar with? Do you know how to write a question in Spanish? Asking questions is one of the most important skills you need to master in the language you are learning. In this lesson, we will learn the most important interrogative words in Spanish. However, before we explore those words, let's discuss a couple of things about asking questions in Spanish. 

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How do you say the word 'question' in Spanish?

'Pregunta' is how you say the word 'question' in Spanish. 'Pregunta' is a feminine noun and its plural form is 'preguntas'. Let's practice the pronunciation of this term:

 

Kevin, la pregunta es:

Kevin, the question is:

Caption 13, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 1

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Los voy a dejar con cuatro preguntas.

I am going to leave you with four questions.

Caption 48, Carlos explica - Tuteo, ustedeo y voseo: Ustedes y vosotros

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Spanish question structure

Do you know how to write a question in Spanish? Let's take a look at the basic structure of a question in Spanish.

 

Punctuation and question marks

To begin with, you need to stick to the rules of Spanish punctuation. Because of that, when you write a question in Spanish you need to remember that question marks are always double-sided. In other words, you need to start the question with an opening question mark (¿) and end it with a closing one (?):

 

¿Cómo es Japón?

What's Japan like?

¿Qué te gusta de Japón?

What do you like about Japan?

Captions 69-70, Clase Aula Azul - Pedir deseos

 Play Caption

 

Yes/No questions

Let's start with simple questions. Believe it or not, for these kinds of questions your intonation is what matters the most. You basically make Yes/No questions by transforming a statement into a question. The Spanish question structure for these kinds of questions is the following:

 

¿ + (subject) + conjugated verb + (additional information) + ?

 

Please note that the terms in parenthesis are optional. Let's see a couple of examples:

 

A Pedro le gusta comer pizza. (Pedro likes to eat pizza.)

¿A Pedro le gusta comer pizza? (Does Pedro like to eat pizza?)

 

For negative questions, you just need to place a "no" before the conjugated verb.

 

No quieres estudiar. (You don't want to study.)

¿No quieres estudiar? (Don't you want to study?)

 

Go ahead and play the following clips so you can hear the intonation of the following Yes/No questions. Notice how the pitch of the speaker's voice gets higher at the end of the sentence when asking questions in Spanish:

 

Mmm... ¿Quieres ir al cine?

Mmm... Do you want to go to the movies?

-Sí, ¡buena idea!

-Yes, good idea!

Captions 45-46, Conversaciones en el parque - Cap. 5: Me gusta mucho este parque.

 Play Caption

 

¿Necesitas ayuda?

Do you need help?

-Mmm... Sí.

-Mmm... Yes.

Captions 9-10, Español para principiantes - La hora

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¿No conoces Manhattan?

You don't know Manhattan?

Caption 37, Yago - 2 El puma

 Play Caption

 

As you can see, it is very common to start Yes/No questions with a conjugated verb.

 

Questions that ask for specific information

The following is the Spanish question structure you need to keep mind when your question is aimed at getting some sort of information:

 

¿ + (preposition) + question word + conjugated verb + (additional information) + ?

 

Please note that the terms in parenthesis are optional. Let's see a couple of examples:

 

¡Oh! ¿Dónde está el cajero automático?

Oh! Where's the ATM?

Caption 36, Natalia de Ecuador - Palabras de uso básico

 Play Caption

 

In the example above, we have the following structure: 

¿ + question word (dónde) + conjugated verb (está) + additional information (el cajero automático) + ?

 

Let's listen to another clip:

 

¿Desde cuándo tienes este piso?

Since when have you had this apartment?

Caption 35, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos

 Play Caption

 

In this last example, the Spanish question structure is the following: 

¿ + preposition (desde) + question word (cuándo) + conjugated verb (tienes) + additional information (este piso) + ?

 

Now that we have seen the structure of a question, let's take a look at some Spanish question words in sentences.

 

Top Spanish question words

It's time to review the most important interrogative words in Spanish. If you are thinking about WH questions, you are right. Let's find out what the Spanish question words are for 'what', 'which', 'when', 'where', 'who', 'why' and 'how'.

 

Top question words in Spanish

For your reference, here's a list of the top question words in Spanish.

 

What / Which (Qué / Cuál)

When (Cuándo)

Where (Dónde)

Who (Quién)

Why (Por qué)

How (Cómo)

 

Now, let's see each one of these question words in action with a list of some of the most basic Spanish questions you can ask.

 

Basic questions to ask in Spanish using WH questions

And now, let's dive into our list.

 

What / Which (Qué / Cuál)

 

Diremos, "¿Qué hora es?"

We'll say, "What time is it?"

Caption 49, Español para principiantes - La hora

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O, ¿A qué te dedicas?

Or, What do you do? [with "tú"].

Caption 17, Karla e Isabel - Tú y Usted

 Play Caption

 

Oye, y ¿en qué trabajas?

Hey, and what do you do [for a living]?

Caption 82, Ricardo - La compañera de casa

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Por supuesto; ¿cuál es su dirección de correo?

Of course; what is your e-mail address?

Caption 69, Negocios - Empezar en un nuevo trabajo

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¿Recuerdas cuál era la copa para servir vino?

Do you remember which cup was the one for serving wine?

Caption 36, Ana Carolina - El comedor

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When (Cuándo)

 

¿Y cuándo hizo el "check-in"?

And when did he check-in?

Caption 13, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa - Capítulo 3

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¿Cuándo terminas de estudiar?

When do you finish studying?

Caption 72, Carlos explica - Tuteo, ustedeo y voseo: Conjugación

 Play Caption

 

Where (Dónde)

 

¿De dónde eres?

Where are you from?

Caption 36, Curso de español - ¿De dónde eres?

 Play Caption

 

Y ¿en dónde vives?

And where do you live?

Caption 8, Cleer - Entrevista a Lila

 Play Caption

 

Let's see a couple of clips from Raquel to see the kind of questions you ask when you want to find out where something is located:

 

¿Me podrías decir dónde está el baño?

Could you tell me where the bathroom is?

Caption 7, Raquel - Expresiones para un festival de música.

 Play Caption

 

¿Sabes dónde hay alguna farmacia?

Do you know where there's a pharmacy?

Caption 24, Raquel - Expresiones para un festival de música.

 Play Caption

 

Who (Quién)

We use 'who' when we want to find out someone's identity. Let's see a couple of examples:

 

Mi jugador favorito juega en el Real Madrid.

My favorite player plays for Real Madrid.

¿Quién es?

Who is it?

Captions 19-20, El Aula Azul - Las Profesiones

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¿Usted quién es?

Who are you?

Roberto. Un amigo.

Roberto. A friend.

Captions 24-25, Yago - 9 Recuperación

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Why (Por qué)

 

¿Por qué dices eso? -No...

Why are you saying that? -No...

Caption 14, Cortometraje - Beta

 Play Caption

 

How (Cómo)

 

Para saludar, podemos decir: "Hola. ¿Cómo estás? ¿Todo bien?"

To greet (people), we can say: "Hello. How are you? (Is) everything good?"

Caption 7, Español en las calles - Varias expresiones

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Keep in mind that the word 'cómo' is not always translated as the English word 'how'. In fact, one of the most basic Spanish questions you can ask is a good example of that:

 

Buenos días, ¿cómo te llamas?

Good morning, what's your name?

Caption 8, La rutina diaria - La mañana

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When we want to find out someone's age or the price of an object, we combine 'how' with other words such as 'old' or 'much'. When we want to get that kind of information, we use other interrogative words in Spanish. Let's take a look:

 

Ah, lindo.

Oh, nice.

¿Cuánto cuesta?

How much does it cost?

Captions 33-34, Natalia de Ecuador - Palabras de uso básico

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¿Cuántos años tienes?

How old are you?

Caption 6, Cleer - Entrevista a Lila

 Play Caption

 

Ah, vale. ¿Cuántos hijos tienes?

Oh, OK. How many sons do you have?

Caption 39, Clase Aula Azul - El verbo parecer

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¿Y cuántas botellas de agua hay aquí?

And how many bottles of water are there here?

Caption 78, Español para principiantes - Los números del 1 al 100

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And that's it for now. We hope you use this review of the most important Spanish question words as the perfect excuse to start asking questions in Spanish. Are you ready? We encourage you to do that and don't forget to send us your questions and comments.

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