As a native Spanish speaker, and also as someone who works for Brainscape (which produces the best Spanish-learning app), I am always asked this same question over and over: Which type of Spanish should I learn?
Spanish learners always seem to think that there must be a better (or “easier”) Spanish in some countries than in others, which, in my opinion, is not the right question to be asking. In this article, you'll learn about the major differences between Spanish dialects.
[See also: How to differentiate between Spanish accents]
Which Spanish dialects are useful to learn?
The truth is that it doesn’t matter where or from whom you learn Spanish, as long as you do it properly and in a formal way. Whether I am having a conversation, giving a speech, or writing a letter -- from Mexico through Central America to the last tip of the South American corner in Argentina, and from Latin America to Spain -- everybody who knows Spanish should able to understand me, because I tend to speak in a proper "educated" Spanish without too much slang.
The important issue here is to understand that while there are different accents, commonly-used terms, slang, and some vocabulary words (which by the way aren’t so extreme and difficult to understand), proper educated Spanish is universal, and its correct use should not be mistaken with certain local regional expressions or slang. Therefore, when you hear educated people from different Spanish speaking countries, if they speak formal educated Spanish, they should be able to understand each other.
It's the same in English: Well-educated American English speakers are able to understand and communicate seamlessly with well-educated British, Australians, Irish, and Canadians – but less-educated rural people in the Scottish Highlands might have a hard time conversing with farmers in deep Alabama.
Types of Spanish dialects
Of course this does not imply that there aren’t some differences in some frequently used terms in formal Spanish, which are still important to take into account. For example, the words “computador,” “computadora,” and “ordenador” all refer to the same thing (“computer”), and they are all correct forms of saying the word. Similarly, in English , the British may refer to waste material as “rubbish” whereas Americans call it “garbage” or “trash”, but all these words are correct and understood in either country.
Nevertheless, despite these acceptable regional variations, I continue to hear certain comments like, “Latin Americans have contaminated the purity of Spanish by using improper words and making it difficult to understand, which is why only in Spain you will find the purest and most proper Spanish, just because Spanish was born there.” This is absolutely FALSE.
Pure Spanish is a myth
Latin Americans can also speak very good and proper Spanish that is not “contaminated” In fact, Latin American Spanish is often very clear, easy to understand, and compliant with all correct verbs and intonations. In fact, many translations of movies and books are done in Latin America instead of Spain and are understood perfectly by Spaniards. Colombia’s recording industry is particularly prosperous due to its clarity and proper use of Spanish.
The error in thinking that Spanish from Spain is the only pure and real Spanish would be just as mistaken as saying that only in England will you hear proper English, because Americans have “contaminated” the language. Try telling that to Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, and other incredible American English speakers. Just as great English speakers can come from a variety of countries and dialects, great Spanish speakers can come from many places as well.
We should keep in mind that even the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language from Spain has said that in Latin American cities such as Bogotá there is a better Spanish than the one in Spain. Thus if your goal is to learn Spanish effectively, it doesn’t matter where it comes from, as long as you emphasize learning it correctly, differentiate proper Spanish from slang, and remember that there are many differences in the way that Spanish is often used. “Correct” Spanish should be thought of as a single global system that can and does have many acceptable forms and styles.
Learn Spanish with Brainscape
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