There are many questions on the Internet from people, wondering if they should learn Spanish from Spain vs Spanish from Latin America. There are many factors, but since I live in Europe I decided that it is wise to follow general advice and study version from Spain (castellano), to use it in my speaking and writing with natives in Europe. Due to this, I watched and analyzed (by paying attention to the use of phrases, intonation, etc.) several movies and series from Spain ("La Víctima Número Ocho", "Contratiempo", "El Desconocido").

But the thing is that I am studying Spanish not only to talk with natives from Spain, but also to obtain advantages of Spanish being very global language. I don't want to limit myself only to content from Spain, because there is so much of interesting content in Latin America, as well. Books, movies, articles on different topics. Initially I thought of consuming Latin American content only after I learn one dialect - castellano (to have sort of base when dealing with Latin American content). But now I decided to consume input and learn from all countries.

Basically, right now my goal is to be understandable by native speakers in Europe (in writing and speaking) and at the same time to strive to increase my ability to understand content from both Latin America and Spain.

I am already quite aware of the main differences in grammar between Spanish in Spain and Latin America, at least what to pay attention to. Of course, it varies country by country, but in general:

  • use of vos vs tú,

  • use of ustedes vs vosotros,

  • use of pretérito indefinido vs pretérito perfecto

  • loísmo vs leísmo

  • preference for reflexive verb forms for verbs of movement in Latin America: venir vs venirse, entrar vs entrarse, etc.

SO, by knowing this, I think I have less chances of learning "incorrect" grammar to be used in Spain, even if I consume and learn from Latin American content. So, these differences in grammar doesn't concern me much. Besides, to me they seem not too difficult learn. For example, as I already now "vosotros" conjugation, swapping it for "ustedes" when in Latin America doesn't seem so difficult for me. Maybe when you already have habits, it is more difficult to swap, but still I think quite easy to adjust if needed.

I am also somewhat aware of different pronunciation, like yeísmo in Rioplatense dialect for for “y” and “ll” and tendency in dropping "s" and "d" (especially in Carribean). Other differences in pronunciation between natives from Spain and other Latin American countries are not so dramatical, at least for my ears. So, differences in pronunciation doesn't concern me too, as long as I pay attention to the most drastical differences.

Different slang/colloquialism doesn't concern me either, because I use WordReference to distinguish between slang in Spain and Latin America. Example below.

Eso mola - used in Spain. https://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=molar

While in Mexico different word with same meaning would be used https://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=chido

As you can see, there is symbox "ES" or "MX" and you just need to use the one where you live now. And usually you learn slang on-the-go by living in that area. So I now avoid learning any slang in advance, maybe a couple of slang words from castellano dialect, for fun.

What concerns me more is the difference in the use of non-slang words and phrases to describe the same object or issue (like differences in UK vs US English). For example, from "La Víctima Número Ocho":

Vamos justo de tiempo = we are in a hurry


As you can see, there is no any regional symbol (unlike with slang example of "mola" above), so I assume this phrase is universally understood in Latin America too. Correct?

There are other phrases I learnend from movies from Spain. Would, for example, these prhases be understood in Latin America?

Tener a bien

Muerto de hambre

Tener fe

Tener una vida por delante

Hacer caso a alguien

Echar la bronca

Merecer la pena

Salirse con la suya

Seguir el rollo

Tomar el pelo a alguien

SO, the problem is that when I watch Argentinian or any other Latin American movie, I can see many interesting uses of words, phrases, etc., which I would like actually to memorise and to use later in speaking with natives from Europe. But subconsciously I am a bit afraid to learn something I will not be able to use here.

In regards to this, questions:

  1. If I used these phrases above from Spanish movies, would I be understood in Latin America? Are these phrases really are universal, according to WordReference?
  2. Question connected with the question above - can I rely on WordReference when translating any phrase from Latin American movie that if it doesn't show any regional symbol (unlike in case of "molar") that it can be used in Spain and be understood?
  3. Maybe the main question - is it really safe to learn such kind of chunks of words and individual words from Latin American movies to use later in Spain, to be understood by people?

I am really asking this all because I don't know how much natives from Spain and Latin America understand each others use of particular words (carro vs coche as example).

I, of course, red about this issue myself. And liked the response from Stephanie S in this link: https://www.fluentin3months.com/forum/specific-language-questions/should-i-learn-european-spanish-or-latin-american-spanish/

Seems like it is not a problem at all. But I am also interested in obtaining feedback here.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is much too broad for this site. – Lambie Feb 29 '20 at 23:00
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    Don't limit/filter your input of Spanish-speaking opportunities just because you're worried you'll say something wrong or offensive, or that you're not currently in the country from which you'd prefer to learn it. Spanish is Spanish, English is English, et cetera... You will be understood no matter what, and any mistakes you make are your own and you should own them and learn from them. – dockeryZ Mar 1 '20 at 9:04
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    Become a sponge for Spanish regardless of its form of input. – dockeryZ Mar 1 '20 at 9:05

I have to fully agree with Stephanie S's answer you link. I am a native from Spain and I often have interactions with Latin American speakers. My experience is that there is no problem understanding each other. Many times, if one uses a regional word or expression that the other one does not know, its meaning will be clear from the context. Sometimes it will not, in which case the person who does not understand will ask about the meaning, and then both will joke about the difference. This happens seldom in any case.

It is nice that you want to be prepared for conversation with speakers from any dialect, but keep in mind that slang and colloquial phrases often vary across regions that are much smaller than countries, and also vary in time. It is impossible to learn the colloquial speech from every region in advance. The natives definitely do not do it, there is no need for learners to do it either. As Stephanie S says, it is much more realistic that you just use any expressions that you learn and like, and then you will naturally pick up the colloquial speech of the people in your environment.

  • thank you. As for slang and colloquial phrases, sure I take that into account and that is why I use Word Reference to double check of which country slang is and if it is a slang at all. I feel now it is better not to limit yourself to content from a particular country (Spain in my case), but to be opened and learn general expresions from any country. I was afraid that I would not be understood, but experience of Stephanie tells me different thing. Now I feel more calm that if I learn general non-slang expressions from Latin American movies, I'll still be understood in Spain. – Alex Feb 28 '20 at 6:19
  • I also liked comment from Pablodf76 in thread spanish.stackexchange.com/q/21717/23475: "You can learn the basics of Spanish by going to classes, but you'll only learn it truly on repeated exposure to speakers, and these will be probably diverse, so you'll pick up a mixture of dialects, if you're lucky. Grammar does not vary a lot among dialects.* You may find differences in the names of everyday items and in slang, but this will happen no matter what." I was a bit worried of exactly that - sounding like a mix of different dialects. But seems like not a problem at all. – Alex Feb 28 '20 at 6:30
  • By the way, living in Europe, in university I studied UK English. But I watched many US movies in English, so my English is now somewhat a mix of both, in terms of grammar and vocabulary. I just never questioned myself before - which version of English to learn, I just consumed whatever content I could find. I never had any problems in many years in being understood or in understanding people. Even though, English is very international and thus I communicated much with non-native English speakers. Also, to me Spanish differences in Latin American vs Spain are bigger, that is why I asked. – Alex Feb 28 '20 at 7:15
  • taking into account also my experience with English, to summarize, for me the best way now (as for non-native speaker learning Spanish) would be to do the same as in English - to consume input from all Spanish countries (not only Spain even though I live in Europe) if I like articles/movies/music and learn general expressions (like the ones I already learned and gave as example), at the same time being aware of slang and small grammar differences. Correct me, wimi, if I am wrong. – Alex Feb 28 '20 at 7:16
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    @alex yes, that sounds like a very good approach. Don't worry: you will be understood and develop your language as you use it. I myself am probably already mixing dialects, including the occasional German word/expression when the Spanish one doesn't automatically come to mind. Don't forget to enjoy the content! – wimi Feb 28 '20 at 7:49

As a Mexican native I can tell you that we understand Spanish people pretty well, except for slang words, of course, and when they (or we) have a thick accent. Like you mentioned there are words or phrases that are very different but context will give you the meaning. In my experience, non-slang words that are usually different between countries are the ones that describe clothes, for example, in Mexico we say "playera" while in Argentina they say "remera" and in Spain they say "camiseta", in Spain they say "zapatillas deportivas" while we say tenis, for us, a zapatilla is something designed and word by girls or women.

Thanks to the internet and Netflix more and more people are familiar and know the meaning of Spanish slang. I work as a teacher and almost all the students in the school have watched "La casa de papel" and "Élite" and have a good understanding of the slang words used in those shows.

Now, regarding your list, in MExico: Tener a bien. It's understood but not that common

Muerto de hambre. The same

Tener fe. The same

Tener una vida por delante: The same

Hacer caso a alguien: The same

Echar la bronca. We would say "echar bronca" or "echar pleito"

Merecer la pena. Some people use it but is more common to say "valer la pena"

Salirse con la suya. The same

Seguir el rollo. It's understood but we would say "seguir la corriente".

Tomar el pelo a alguien. The same.

For your second question, I think wordreference is a good place, I use it a lot, especially the forum when I have a doubt.

  • thank you, you made me assured that if I learn these phrases from castellano, I would still be understood in Latin America, even though these are not common there. Which again makes sense to be open to input from both continents, just to be able to understand. Again, I am referring exactly to such kind of every day expressions, not slang like "Eso mola"... – Alex Feb 28 '20 at 6:12

The following comments are from my perspective as a native speaker of English as I sense that other respondents write from that of native speakers of Spanish.

I learned Spanish in the version spoken in Spain with something like the pronunciation of northern Spain. I learned self taught, I have never taken a formal course. I have subsequently spent some time in South America both working and as a tourist. I would have to say that I have never experienced any serious issues understanding or being understood in South America. Of course there have been occasions when a word comes up which I do not understand and which sometimes they cannot translate into the Spanish I know. One example was the Chilean waitress who could not explain palta to me since she did not know I would call it aguacate. It tasted good just the same. I have also been teased in a friendly way for sounding like a European.

That is all from the point of view of someone whose goal is to communicate everyday without worrying too much about correctness. If your goal is to be a professional translator or a teacher then you do need to avoid mixing idioms too much but that does not seem to be your aim.

  • thank you very much for sharing your experience. I am also learning by myself, starting with castellano movies (to have as a base) and my goal of learning is to communicate mostly, that is why I find your comment valuable. – Alex Feb 29 '20 at 15:07
  • by the way, have you adjusted anything in your language (grammar, vocabulary or other things, when you were in South America (before coming there or during your stay there)? I already described grammar differences in my original question, there are more, of course, but I highlighted main ones from my perspective. Or you were communicating basically with castellano dialect/grammar as if you were in Spain, without any difficulties of being understood, like you mentioned? – Alex Feb 29 '20 at 15:15
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    I did find myself using seseo there but I did not make any other changes I know of. I certainly did not use voseo. As far as words are concerned I probably adopted some words but unless I actually look them up I have no idea if they were local or not. It was the first place I heard the word mochila for instance but I then had to make sure I could use it in Spain. – mdewey Feb 29 '20 at 17:11

No se fije tanto en los modismos de cada país, eso se va dominando con el tiempo.

Incluso para nosotros los nativos hablantes de español, nos sorprendemos de las particularidades de modismos que cada país ha desarrollado, pero eso no impide la comunicación.

Considerando que los países de América que hablan español nativamente son el 89% del total de hablantes (unos 410 millones vs solo 47 millones en España), es mejor seguir con el habla de Latino América y no el de España.

Conque domine el uso del "usted" es suficiente para sostener una conversación.

Prefiera escuchar las películas que tenga el audio en "español neutro", que es más o menos como se habla en Bogotá y lo que Ud. puede escuchar de los presentadores de noticias de los noticieros que en Colombia se emiten desde Bogotá. La segunda opción es "español mexicano", aunque he encontrado películas con esta opción que en realidad es "español neutro" o casi neutro.

Lo cierto es que está en camino de aprender un rico idioma, adelante!

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    Si OP está en Europa, tiene más sentido aprender el español europeo. Eso del 89% es indiferente. Qué es el "voceo ibérico"? – wimi Feb 28 '20 at 6:32
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    Esta respuesta parece despreciar el español europeo, cuando las otras respuestas son claramente más neutrales. – wimi Feb 28 '20 at 6:37
  • Lo del 89% SI es relevante: hay 410 millones de hablantes en latinoamérica cuyo idioma nativo es el español vs solo 47 millones en España, luego ¿quienes son los que están jalonando el avance o evolución del idioma?. Es claro que este debate no es para este foro. – alvalongo Feb 29 '20 at 14:05
  • hay 1300 millones de hablantes de chino, frente a 460 millones de hablantes de español. No aprendas español: aprende chino. – wimi Mar 1 '20 at 11:14

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