Just as in any country in the world, Spain is split into different regions, each with their own idiosyncratic dialect or accent.


For those studying Spanish, this can be one of the tricky points. Although people will understand your well-rehearsed Castilian Spanish, they might not respond in ways you expect them to.


The Canary Islands are no different and come with their own unique set of words, grammar structures and pronunciations that aren't used on Spain's mainland. We've put together a short guide on how to tweak your Spanish to sound like a Canary Island native if you're joining us for a holiday or as an expat:


One of the first things you will notice about Canary Island Spanish is that instead of using vosotros for the plural “you”, you'll mostly hear the word ustedes. This is true for all islands of the Canaries, excluding La Gomera and La Palma. So if you want to fit in, make sure you make this slight adjustment when speaking to island natives.


Secondly, whereas Castilian Spanish speakers generally pronounce words with the letter c or z as a th sound, those living on the Canaries pronounce this sound as s, more like their counterparts in Latin America. Incidentally, the shared dialect between the Canary Islands and Latin America is due to the fact that when colonising, the Canary Islanders settled in Latin America and brought their distinctive tongue with them.


Try pronouncing the difference in words such as cenar and zapatos. Thenar becomes senar and thapatos becomes sapatos. Simple!


In terms of grammar, those living on the Canary Islands have a tendency to use the preterit tense where the Spanish mainlanders would employ the perfect. So none of that hoy he estudiado español! The Spanish speakers on the Canaries also omit the possessive de in phrases such as Casa de Belen, in favour of simply Casa Belen.


As if to make it just that extra bit more difficult for you, Canarian Spanish has a whole host of words that are specific to the islands. Luckily a few of these you should be able to pick up immediately.


Due to the influx of English-speaking expats and tourists, native speakers on the island have picked up a few recognisable Anglicisms. Take, for example, the word quinegua, which is used for potato and comes from the English word ‘King Edward’, whose seeds were imported to the island. You'll also hear more everyday words like naife used for “knife”.


Some, however, are not so recognisable and come from more exotic influences in Latin America and Portugal. The word guagua for “bus”, for example, is one you'll have to learn by rote. Here are a few extra words and phrases to employ in your conversation to wow the locals with.



Canarian word glossary


  • Mojo: this is a sauce from the Canarias which is usually put on top of roasted potatoes
  • Jalar: to pull, to attract oneself
  • Fisco or fisquito: a small amount or little bit
  • Duranzo: peach
  • Fos: when you smell something terrible
  • Chacho: to express surprise (it's a shortened form of Muchacho)
  • Mago: poor people (very derogatory)
  • Frangollo: a dessert similar to crème caramel
  • Manejar: to drive (a car)
  • Mojo: this is a sauce from the Canarias which is usually put on top of roasted potatoes
  • Se te fue el baifo: you've lost your mind/you're confused
  • Millo: corn
  • Tenis: trainers, sports shoes
  • Chachi: good or nice, e.g. Su padre es chachi! (Your father is really nice!)
  • Machango: joker
  • Arrojar: to vomit
  • Rasca: drunkenness


Want to know more?


To get a really immersive experience it's probably better to steer clear of the bigger cities where, even when you initiate conversation in Spanish, locals will generally respond in perfect English.


The islands offer different opportunities for practicing Spanish. The lesser-visited island of La Gomera, for example, is much less tourist-heavy and therefore locals do not speak English as a necessity. It's also home to some of the most fantastic scenery of any of the islands (you can see some amazing pictures of that here).


On the other hand, if you're looking for areas which have better options for keeping you entertained whilst you study, Fuerteventura is the better option. The island has fantastic diving schools, beaches and restaurants (see more about that  here), and several national parks such as Corralejo's Parque Natural de las Dunas, a protected area of outstanding natural beauty.


Finally, if you're moving to Spain for good, then Gran Canaria and Tenerife are more expat friendly, with international schools and easy access to all of your home comforts in terms of bars, restaurants and shops.


Have you studied Spanish in the Canary Islands? Have any tips? Let us know below!


Image Sources


Header image by Tom Tolkien (CC BY 2.0)