It is a reasonably well-known fact that in casual conversation it's usually easier for a Portuguese speaker to understand Spanish than for a Spanish speaker to understand Portuguese.

What about speakers of European Spanish vs. speakers of American Spanish? Which direction is easier in general?

My hunch is that it's easier for someone from Spain to understand someone from Mexico or Colombia, for example, than for someone from Mexico or Colombia to understand someone from Spain.

  • I think this will depend heavily on internal dialects and sociolects. If there is any imbalance, it will be for Peninsular, Mexican, and maybe to a lesser extent Argentinian if only because they are the most common in media. But someone from La Línea in Cadiz may be unintelligible even to his fellow Spaniards let alone someone from Guatemala. But if we remove the preexposure aspect, I think it's probably pretty equally balanced. May 5, 2018 at 4:55
  • I think this is a bit broad, or at least would benefit from a bit of narrowing down. Easy is a very relative adjective that can depend on multiple things. A famous linguist from which I don't remember the name learned to speak Japanesa in one week. Does it mean that Japanese is easy? The same for understanding it: how do you set the limit on understanding? Being able to follow a soap opera or just being able to do some groceries and interact with the cashiers? Also, the cultural background of the involved speakers can also affect quite a lot.
    – fedorqui
    May 6, 2018 at 21:05
  • I wanted to ask about conversation. Also, I'm not asking about a single data point such as the remarkable linguist you mentioned, but more generally (the statistical pool -- without looking for statistical rigor). I've edited the question to try to reflect this focus. If you think further narrowing is needed, please feel free to help by editing my question -- I have more experience answering than asking. May 6, 2018 at 21:26
  • I've been searching the (open) web for research studies about mutual intelligilibility among Spanish dialects, to no avail. There might be some, either offline or behind paywalls. I'd say the null hypothesis is that there's no difference, and that so far it hasn't been disproved. It's either that or a compilation of anecdotes (of which there are plenty around).
    – pablodf76
    May 6, 2018 at 22:04
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    i think this is an opinion-based question. It depends on the background, education, ability of the person with languages, etc. For me it could be easier sometimes to understand someone from Spain that someone from the Colombian Caribbean region and that's just me. Others could perfectly said that it is the other way around for them.
    – DGaleano
    May 7, 2018 at 12:39

1 Answer 1


There should be no real difference in which direction you go to learn the other dialect.

Why? Both regions can't avoid to be exposed to the other dialects. In fact there is not a great difference between the Spanish spoken in the Canary islands and the Spanish spoken in Colombia (source here).

Mutual intelligilibility is given when the formants of the dialects are similar. Portuguese contains more formants of Spanish than the other way around, that makes Portuguese native speaker understanding Spanish easier than the other direction.

The formants for dialects of Spanish are almost identical. The only differences in the pronunciation are yeísmo and seseo. Both imply sounds which already exist in the language and speakers of both areas are used to hearing. So it should make little or no difference which direction learners go to understand the other dialect.

  • 1
    I don't think "formants" is what you're trying to say. "Phonemes", maybe?
    – pablodf76
    May 7, 2018 at 12:02
  • Second paragraph is wrong at least based on my experience. I've met many people from Spain and watched shows on TV and movies with out problems, except this guy from Canarias. I could not understand a word but curiously enough my Brazilian friend was able to understand him better. This is another reason for me to say this question is opinion-based.
    – DGaleano
    May 7, 2018 at 12:43
  • @pablodf76: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formant
    – julodnik
    May 8, 2018 at 8:04
  • I know (more or less) what formants are, and that's why I ask, because I've never heard of this ("Mutual intelligilibility is given when the formants of the dialects are similar"). Do you have a source for that?
    – pablodf76
    May 8, 2018 at 10:24
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    Para documentar el asunto les invito para que vean y escuchen la simpática canción Qué difícil es hablar el español realizada por unos músicos de Colombia. @DGaleano
    – alvalongo
    May 11, 2018 at 14:55

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