For many beginning students of Spanish as a Second Language, one of the major concerns is whether they are going to learn Spanish from Spain or from Latin America.
Their choice may not be that simple, because there are many varieties of Spanish within Latin America. It's obvious that the Spanish spoken in Argentina is not exactly the same as the Spanish spoken in Cuba. The same is true in Spain, where there are also many forms, dialects and accents. Some people say they love a specific accent, others say that for them a certain dialect is easier. But, there is much more in common between the Spanish from Spain and the Spanish of Latin America than many students think.
There are many reasons to learn Spanish. You may be learning Spanish because you need it in your job, because you are travelling to a Spanish-speaking country in a few weeks time or simply because you like the way it sounds. It's normal to want to learn the features of the language spoken at the place you’re going to. If you’re travelling to Lima or you are going to work in Madrid, you may want to learn with a local teacher or practice it by listening to local radio shows or watching films. But, you don't have to (or at least in my opinion, you shouldn't) focus on a specific form of Spanish, because this same language will let you understand people from all the countries of Latin America and Spain.
Of course, there are some differences between them, but they cannot be covered in just one article. The Spanish language is so rich, and it has so many varieties that to try to enumerate (make a list of) all the differences is an impossible task.
Here’s how Spanish developed around the world. Spanish colonists took the language with them to North, Central and South America in the sixteenth century, and the language itself evolved differently in various countries. Most of the settlers were from the south of Spain, and the linguistic (language) features of that region of Spain landed in the Americas. These features and the particular way of speaking evolved differently, depending on the interaction the Spanish had with the native languages they encountered in each area they colonised.
Therefore, particular features will vary from one country to another or from one region to another. The lexical variations are countless, and I'm afraid the best way of learning them is as you naturally learn the language. I'm not very fond of memorizing lists of words.
Mountain Village of Fiscal in the Pyrenees of Spain
But, if you need to know, there are two main differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the ones spoken in Latin America. One is a difference in pronunciation, and the other in morphology (the way words are formed).
The seseo and the use of ustedes are used in an informal way of addressing. Seseo is the pronunciation of the letters c (followed by e or I) and z (followed by a, e or I) as an s. Therefore, the word zapato in Latin America is pronounced sapato. In my opinion, that's the main difference. And, aside from accents and intonation, that is the most characteristic trait of the Spanish spoken in Latin America.
On the other hand, ustedes is used in Latin America instead of the form vosotros used in Spain. The context doesn't matter in which ustedes is used (formal or informal). In Latin America, vosotros is rarely used.
As I've said, these are the two main differences between Spain and Latin America, but they are not so different from each other if we compare the Spanish spoken in Latin America with the Spanish spoken in some parts of Andalucia or in the Canary Islands in Spain.
The seseo is normal in these regions, and so is the use of ustedes in informal conversations. It's not rare to see a group of kids playing and addressing each other as ustedes when in some other parts of Spain this form is only used in formal situations. The only difference is that in Andalucia, after ustedes, the verbal form used is the one that should be used for vosotros. So, for instance, one kid would ask the rest of his friends: “¿Ustedes váis a jugar?”
Remember, it’s not a matter of whether one variety of Spanish is purer, sounds better or is more beautiful; this is something personal. As a teacher, I can only recommend that you not focus on one specific form of Spanish but try to understand a Spanish film or a Colombian song, as well as communicate with your boss from Chile or your friend from Seville. Spanish is the language you will use, and you will be understood no matter which kind you have learnt or are still learning.
Edited by Ilene Springer