Written by Mo Stone
There are many different reasons to learn a new language, and one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world, Spanish is on the rise with language learners. But which should you learn: the Castilian Spanish spoken in Spain or the Latin American Spanish spoken throughout the Americas? Read on to get a breakdown of the differences in these two main dialects.
Why Does Spanish Have Different Dialects?
Besides being a top language worldwide, Spanish is the most widely spoken Romance language, descended from Latin with some Arabic influences. The language as we know it today can be traced to the Castilian dialect, which formed on the Iberian Peninsula in the 11th century. Castilian was made the official language of Spain in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the same time that the first Spanish textbook was written.
Before you decide to go with the OG Castilian Spanish, the history of the language gets more complicated after Ferdinand and Isabella. Due to Spain’s policy of expansion and colonization in the 16th century, today 20 different countries have Spanish as an official language, including Mexico, all of the countries of Central America, most of the countries of South America, several island nations such as Cuba, and Equatorial Guinea in Africa. Today, as a result of immigration, there are also significant Spanish-speaking populations in the United States as well.
With so many Spanish-speaking countries means that there are a lot of dialects of Spanish, which can sound quite different from one another! Luckily for learners, these dialects are mostly mutually intelligible, and two of them are widely taught: Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish.
Castilian vs. Latin American: What’s the Difference?
So what’s the difference between these two dialects? The most noticeable difference is in pronunciation. European Spanish speakers pronounce “c” (that comes before the letter “e” or “i”) and “z” as /Θ/ (“th” in “thing”). Latin American speakers, however, will pronounce these letters as /s/ or /z/. Some Latin American dialects have other key sounds that differ from the Castilian dialect as well, such as in Argentina. One key grammatical difference is in the matter of formal speech when using the second person. European Spanish has two ways of addressing a group in the second person, the informal “vosotros” and the formal “ustedes,” but Spanish throughout the Americas uses only “ustedes” for both informal and formal situations.
Ultimately, which Spanish you should study comes down to you! If you fantasize about living and traveling in Spain, or are interested in parts of Spanish culture such as flamenco, go ahead and study Castilian Spanish. For most learners though, Latin American Spanish is probably more useful, as it is much more widely spoken throughout the Americas, including in the United States. However, keep in mind that while the Latin American dialects are mutually intelligible for the most part, accents and vocabulary can vary widely. If your dream is to sip wine and dance tango in Argentina, you should try to study the dialect spoken there (called Rioplatense Spanish).
Ready? Let’s Learn!
Now that you’ve chosen your dialect, it’s time to learn! Luckily, there are tons of apps and platforms available to study languages from your phone or computer, and most of the popular ones such as Lingodeer, Memrise, and Rosetta Stone offer both Castilian and Latin American Spanish. For an app that focuses on the Castialian dialect, try Mondly, Busuu, or Duolingo. To try your hand at the Latin American dialect, have a go at Rocket Spanish or the Mexican Spanish courses on Pimsleur. Happy studying!