Differentiating Between Spanish Accents

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Differentiating Between Spanish Accents

Guest Post by Brainscape intern Freddy De La Rosa:

Recently I wrote a post in which I refuted the idea that there is any “best” form of Spanish to learn. Nevertheless, there are some important differences between the various forms of this widely spoken language. Even Mexico has 10 distinguishable varieties of the Spanish language! Don’t worry Brainscape is here to help with all of your learn Spanish needs.

It may seem strange to hear this, but even fluent Spanish speakers who learned the language from one country may find it extremely difficult to understand native speakers from other countries. Many people may become frustrated when testing their recently acquired Spanish skills because native speakers from other countries speak very differently from what we are used to hearing in our Spanish lessons – and sometimes they even use different words.

If this sounds familiar, rest assured that this is normal. You have not been wasting your time or money by learning Spanish. Just like English, Spanish has several variations in accents, pronunciations, and commonly used words that can make the same language sound very different.

Differentiating Between Spanish Accents

Just like English? Yes. For instance, English can take on many different accents when spoken by Americans, Australians, the British and the Irish – just to name a few. Although the pronunciation varies, the meaning and the intention of what is spoken is the same. The trick here is to have an idea of how each of these cultures tends to pronounce and articulate certain words. For instance, if you have heard a British accent before with enough frequency, odds are you will be able to understand one simply by knowing that the speaker is British.  A similar scenario exists in the Spanish language, which contains quite a few ways to pronounce and articulate words.

In the following paragraphs, I will briefly explain some of these accents, quoting others for the accents that I don’t know as well. Click the links to hear each accent for yourself!:


“Spanish of Madrid and of northern Spain, called Castilian, developed characteristics that never reached the New World. These include the pronunciation of ‘ci’ and ‘ce’ as ‘th.’ In Madrid, ‘gracias’ (thank you) becomes ‘gratheas’ (as opposed to ‘gras-see-as’ in Latin America). Another difference is the use of the word ‘vosotros’ (you all, or you guys) as the informal form of ‘ustedes’ in Spain. Castilian sounds to Latin Americans much like British English sounds to U.S. residents.” (From http://www.infoplease.com/spot/hhmaccents1.html).


This is a very diverse country with many different accents, but in general, especially in the Colombian highlands in cities such as Bogotá, their accent is relatively neutral and clear, although there is a slightly marked “s” that sounds like “shh”. This is very different from the “s” pronunciation in Spain or Argentina, where it has a much softer, almost imperceptible sound. Also, letters like “b,” “d,” and “g” are occlusive, meaning that their sounds are approximated to similar letters, because their sound is pronounced more softly. (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colombian_Spanish).


The Peruvian accent doesn’t have a strong intonation, but its tone does exhibit an influence from indigenous languages like Quechua and Aymara.


Think Speedy Gonzalez, but not as exaggerated. There is marked tone in the last word of every phrase, and they also reduce the accentuation of some vowels. For example, a phrase like   “Que te pasa” sounds more like “Que t pasaaaaa”.  Still, Mexican Spanish is pretty understandable and clear, and probably the easiest regional variety to identify.


In my opinion, Chileans speak quickly, mumble, and chew the last syllables of certain words. There is a certain similarity with the Peruvian accent, though the latter is much slower and clearer.


“Generally in the Spanish world ‘tú’ is the singular way of saying ‘you.’ In Buenos Aires, however, ‘vos’ is used instead. It is accompanied by a modified old Spanish verb form. It is as if part of the English-speaking world still used ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ in everyday speech. For instance, they pronounce the ‘ll’ as an English ‘zh,’ while most other Spanish speakers pronounce ‘ll’ as an English ‘y.’” (From http://www.infoplease.com/spot/hhmaccents1.html).


“Spanish is spoken in the Caribbean, coastal areas of Latin America, and in some cases in southern Spain. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the accent in Seville, Cádiz, and other cities in Andalusia, in Southern Spain, began to change. Speakers began to drop the final ‘s’ on words. The settlers and traders of southern Spain took this dialect with them to the Caribbean and other coastal areas. Today Caribbean or ‘Lowland’ Spanish is characterized by its relative informality, its rapid pace, and the dropping of ‘s’ sounds, allowing people to talk more quickly.” (From http://www.infoplease.com/spot/hhmaccents1.html).

Of course, this list is somewhat of an oversimplification and it certainly does not cover the entire Spanish-speaking world. It is meant to act as a helpful guide for those of you trying to distinguish between some of the more distinctive accents. Looking to improve your Spanish? We offer a variety of Spanish Flashcards. If you have any questions or anything to add to this, please post your comments below!

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1 comment

WilliamRiley 3 years ago

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