There are 21 Spanish-speaking countries in the world, and few people know that they are spread over three continents: America, Europe and Africa.
In this article, we will take a brief look at the general and cultural aspects you should know about each of these nations.
If you are learning Spanish or already know how to speak it, you should keep this article as a support guide. You will then understand how you can take advantage of the language in each of these countries.
But let’s start talking about the countries at once… Here they are arranged by continents so that the ideas can be conveyed more clearly.
Spanish-speaking South American countries
Of the 13 countries in South America, 9 are Spanish-speaking. Let’s take a look at each of these.
In Argentina, the Spanish spoken is quite particular, especially in the Río de la Plata area. Se vosea: instead of saying tú, one says vos. In addition, there is a phenomenon called rehyphilated yeism, in which the sound of the letters “Ll” and “Y” is changed to something similar to the sound produced by the s and the h together in English: Sh…
Argentine culture is subject to a very strong Italian influence, which contributed to the creation of lunfardo, a mixture of indigenous voices, regional Spanish idioms and some Italian dialects.
There are 43 million Spanish speakers in Argentina.
It is a multicultural country influenced by multiple indigenous languages. As a result, Bolivians often speak Spanish as a first or second language.
Of Bolivia’s 11 million inhabitants, 83% speak Spanish.
Many Spanish speakers around the world consider the Spanish spoken in Colombia to be the most cultured and refined. It is characterized by its low and slow tone, by the pronunciation of the final s in most regions, and by its variety of accents.
Colombian culture is a mixture of European, African and indigenous traditions that have been strongly integrated over the last 200 years.
Ecuadorian Spanish is marked by three main dialects: coastal, used in the coastal region and its islands; Andean, used in the highlands; and Amazonian, used in the jungle zone.
All three forms are absolutely easy to understand for those with an average level of Spanish.
The Spanish spoken in Peru is characterized by a guttural emphasis on the letter ge. In addition, as in all America, there is seseo, that is to say that the c and the z have no difference in pronunciation.
Due to the enormous influence of indigenous languages, a chant-like way of speaking and the use of many onomatopoeias can be identified.
Of Peru’s 33 million inhabitants, 86% speak Spanish.
The huge variety of jargons and idioms used in Chilean Spanish can be a challenge for those learning Spanish.
Words like “achacarse” (to become sad) or expressions like “andar pato” (not having money), make not everything understandable even to native speakers from other Spanish-speaking countries.
However, the cultured language is quite accurate and easy to understand, so everything will depend on the context in which those who travel to Chile find themselves.
The Spanish of Uruguay is in most cases identical to that spoken in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina: rehyphilated yeísmo, voseo…
But specifically it is a variant of rioplatense Spanish with some differences.
Uruguay is full of expressions that allow to identify people from different regions, but in general it is easy to understand.
Uruguay’s cultural influences are similar to those of Argentina, although with a greater presence of lusoparlantes (Portuguese speakers).
Spanish shares with Guarani the place of the two official languages of Paraguay.
Paraguayan Spanish is closely related to the Spanish spoken in northern Argentina. One of its most beautiful features is that the phrases are translated verbatim from Guarani.
For example, in Guaraní we say ‘ahíta aju’ to say ‘I’ll be right back. But the literal translation would be “Voy a ir a venir”, and that is the one mainly used by Paraguayans in Spanish.
Guarani and Spanish coexist in Paraguay in a way that would make an interesting stay for anyone who is learning Spanish or has learned it as a second language.
As in Colombia, Venezuelan Spanish is not homogeneous. In the Andean region, it is spoken in a leisurely manner, somewhat similar to that of north-central Colombia. In the West, vosea (vos is used instead of tú).
Accents change radically from one region to another: in the Llanos, Andalusian and indigenous influences are noticeable; in the central zone and in Caracas, the accent is unmistakable.
In any case, in the end there are similar elements such as the suppression of the final eses, the seseo and the yeísmo.
Spanish-speaking countries in Central America
Central American Spanish is marked by an enormous influence of Mayan languages such as Poqomam or Poqomchi’. But basically it is easy to understand. In any case, it is not really possible to speak of a single Spanish, but of several variants. Now let’s look at the countries.
Linguists agree that Guatemalan Spanish is phonetically conservative, as it has few emissions.
Voseo is the main form of pronoun usage throughout the territory. Of Guatemala’s 17 million Spanish speakers, 78% speak Spanish. The rest communicate in different indigenous languages.
Honduran Spanish is defined by intonation, and is more similar to that of El Salvador than to the rest of Central America.
One of the peculiarities of Honduran Spanish lies in its peculiar slang. For example, “perra” means lie; “Pijín”, drunkenness; “Cheque”, that everything is fine….
Spanish is spoken by 99% of the inhabitants of Honduras.
Nicaraguan Spanish has among its peculiarities the use of expressions and words that have fallen into disuse in Spain.
It also tends to diphthongation: we say puertear instead of portear, pior instead of peor or cuete instead of cohete.
In Nicaraguan Spanish there is really almost no Mayan influence, but it can be identified in words such as culumuco, cumba or pijul…
The most relevant indigenous influence in Nicaraguan Spanish is Nahuatl.
As in other Central American countries, in El Salvador people talk about you. However, the way they use the language allows usted and tú to be used at different times as well.
The American linguist Charles Kany, identified identical uses of the language with respect to Nicaragua.
There are also some crutches that function as wildcards. For example, for example, “va? Which is used in place of Truth?
Costa Ricans are called ticos because they use the diminutive -tico: momento – momentico. But this is a feature that can be seen in other countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Colombia.
The big difference between Costa Rican Spanish and that of other countries is the sound of the R’s in the same way as in English.
In Costa Rica we speak with vos and usted, while tuteo is considered in bad taste or overconfident.
The word “mae” is characteristic. It is a deformation of “maje” (fool until a century ago in Spain). Like that, there are many expressions used in Costa Rica, all of them easy to understand.
Panamanian Spanish coexists with 19 indigenous languages, and has characteristics that make it moderately similar to that spoken in western Colombia and Venezuela.
For example, the lisp, the loss of the intervocalic -d, the deletion of the final ese or the weakening of final consonants in general.
In Panama, both tú and vos are used. Moreover, tú is used before infinitives in many occasions: “After tú say something”.
Spanish in North America
Although it is the second most spoken language in the United States, it is spoken as an official language in Mexico.
Mexican Spanish differs from the Spanish spoken in other countries of the Americas mainly because of some characteristics such as:
– In Mexico, the sound of the “ese” at the end of words is maintained. Instead of saying loh perroh, as it sounds in Venezuela, Mexicans say los perros, as it is spelled. However, in places like Chiapas, it is common to appreciate the loss of that ending.
– In Mexico they also keep the d before the last vowel. Instead of saying partío, they say partido.
– The verb platicar almost always replaces the verbs conversar, hablar or charlar.
– The Nahuatl sound tl, which does not exist in the rest of America, is used.
Spanish in Africa
Spanish in Africa is spoken as an official language in Equatorial Guinea. The country gained independence from Spain in 1968, and since then has maintained the language for all official matters.
What is Spanish like in Equatorial Guinea?
Unlike the countries of the Americas, Spanish in Equatorial Guinea is not spoken as a mother tongue, but as a second language by the country’s inhabitants.
Seven indigenous languages of the Bantu family are also spoken in the country, as well as Portuguese Creole and pidgi English.
In any case, all schooling, legal formalities, announcements, and modern communication in general is conducted in Spanish.
It can be said that in Equatorial Guinea they speak different varieties of Spanish due to the influence of the Bantu languages.
Generally speaking, they tend to suppress the “erre”, they are yeist and seseante in some regions, the articles tú and usted are used interchangeably, and other characteristics that may be peculiar to speakers of Spanish in other countries.
Spanish in Europe
The Spanish of Spain is the one that gave rise to all the varieties spoken in the world, but this in turn has features of Arabic and languages spoken in the different autonomous communities of Spain, such as Catalan, Galician or Mallorcan.
And what are the characteristics of Spanish in Spain?
Those who have spent time in Latin America or were born in any of its countries will realize the difference between the Spanish of Spain and the one they know.
Although in Spain the tú is used instead of vos (which fell into disuse in the Iberian Peninsula), when the plural is used, it is not ustedes, but vosotros; and consequently, the sentence is not continued by saying ustedes están, or ustedes van, but rather, vosotros estáis, or vosotros vais…
But the main difference is noticeable in the pronunciation: there is no seseo, so the c sounds like the z and both letters are profoundly different from the s. At least in mainland Spain, since in the Canary Islands these differences do not occur and a similar seseo is used as in America.
However, these are only two of the many differences. To understand the others in detail, it will be necessary to review another article.
The great diversity of Spanish
Spanish, as we have made clear with these brief examples, is a language that can change profoundly from one place to another. But by learning the general vocabulary and grammatical rules, all its variants become easy to understand.
If you are learning Spanish and want to go deeper until you reach excellence, or you are simply looking to start from scratch, write to us! At Lingua Language Center, we are ready to give you all the information and welcome you.