Most Spanish students start off learning essentially “neutral” Spanish. It’s only later when they arrive in a specific country that they realize how important it is to understand the specific local accent, expressions, and slang. For this reason we recommend students consider picking a specific Spanish dialect and using that as a base.
If you’re taking classes at a learning center or local college, there’s a good chance you might be learning from a non-native teacher. And although non-native speakers can still make good (even excellent) teachers, unless they started learning at a very young age, their accent is going to be tinged with a native English dialect.
With all of the online language learning options such as Rype it’s much easier to learn from native Spanish speakers than it was in years past. And even better, you can select teachers from a specific country. In my opinion, this is the best option for mastering your pronunciation.
With this in mind, let’s look at some of the specific regional Spanish dialects.
Basic Spanish dialects
- Northern Spain’s Castilian (the “lisp” Spanish)
- Southern Spain’s Andalusian
- Murucian (southeast Spain)
- Canarian (Canary Islands)
- Gibralter (though this is more of an English/Spanish patois)
- Caribbean Spanish (Cuba, Puerto Rico, ect)
- Latin American Spanish (Central America and much of South America)
- Rioplatense (Uruguay and Argentina)
- Equatoguinean (African, Camaroon Spanish)
Notice how Latin America is lumped into one dialect. This lack of disambiguation can cause trouble. In larger countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, etc, there are just as many regional accents as there are for English in the US. And from country to country, the Spanish language sounds completely different. And while any native Spanish speaker from anywhere on the planet simplify their dialect to communicate effectively with any other Spanish speakers, with Latin American countries, we’re not dealing with just states like in the US. There are literally two continents of cultural and linguistic nuances across Latin America.
How to pick the best dialect for you
In deciding how to pick the best dialect, think about three things. First, consider why you’re learning Spanish. Is there a particular country where you wish to spend time abroad? Is it for work or career advancement? And if so, which region of Spanish speakers would you most likely be communicating with?
Second, assess where you struggle the most with your Spanish pronunciation. If you don’t have a specific destination in mind but only want to travel, it might be best to assess your strengths and weaknesses.
For example, some North Americans just cannot master rolling their R’s. In this case, it might be a good idea to find online Spanish instructors specifically from Costa Rica. Costa Rican Spanish is known for being very even in its pronunciation, almost like west coast American English. And in Costa Rica, R’s are not rolled as strongly as in other countries, such as Mexico.
Third, many of us are used to hearing a specific Spanish dialect already. Generally, this depends on where we live. Californians and Texans are likely to be more familiar with the northern Mexico accent, East coasters are going to be more familiar with Cuban and Puerto Rican dialects, and People from England or France will most likely have heard Castilian or Andalusian the most.
Without even realizing it, your brain has subconsciously logged this Spanish language pronunciation information, even if you don’t yet speak the language. This means your brain could already be preconditioned to pick up that specific accent a little bit easier.
Tougher Spanish dialects and accents to learn
Dominican: It’s tricky to pick up Dominican Spanish because Dominicans tend to drop the last letter on words. S’s and D’s might not be pronounced at all. R’s and L’s can get hijacked along the way. Dominican Spanish is spoken with a rhythmic staccato. I find the Caribbean dialects beautiful to listen too, but they are probably not the best choice at the beginning of your Spanish journey unless you have that destination in mind specifically for travel or business opportunities.
Nicaraguan: I added this to the tricky list because Nicaraguan Spanish holds a lot in common with Caribbean Spanish. They tend to drop from S’s words and also heavily roll R’s.
Argentinian: Rioplatense Spanish has a lot of Italian and German influence. It is a harsher version of Spanish with a more throaty, guttural pronunciation. They also have an almost entirely different dictionary of slang than the rest of Latin America. I remember watching the Che Guevara story, Diarios de Motocicleta in Spanish and missing a good 20 percent of the dialogue during the Argentinian scenes (Argentinians speaking to Argentinians).
Castilian: Though not nearly as tricky as the Argentine or Uruguayan accents, the mainstay of Spain’s Castilian Spanish accent is a the lisp that can be a bit troublesome.
Easier Spanish dialects and accents to learn
Andaluz: the Andalusian accent spoken throughout Madrid and surrounding areas is very clear. It is soft and fluid dialect that to my ear sounds wonderful. And I think it is a great example of a common tongue version of Spanish.
Costa Rican: I mentioned Tico Spanish once above because of its evenness. Standard Costa Rican is almost like a neutral Spanish as it doesn’t lean too heavily in any direction. Costa Ricans barely roll the Rs, and you pronounce the words as you read them (not randomly dropping letters).
Colombian (Bogotá): Like Costa Rican, Colombian Spanish is pronounced clearly as well. But Colombian is a little bit more musical in nature. There is a bit more rise and fall to the vocal pitch, which makes it sound slightly sing-song and beautiful to listen to.
What’s the conclusion?
Use these suggestions to decide on which Spanish dialect you would prefer, then focus on that. Try not to bounce between instructors from different parts of the world. Utilize online Spanish learning resources like Rype, where you can handpick you instructors. Only use instructors who are from the region in which your preferred Spanish dialect is spoken (unless you are in a pinch).
Choosing and sticking to a dialect will help you master your Spanish pronunciation much faster. You’ll hear words and sentence cadence spoken the same way over and over, helping you to dominate the language faster.
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