I learned to speak Spanish in Missouri, meaning I learned it out of a book and (for the first 5 years) from women who had lived their entire lives in Missouri. You can imagine how awkwardly formal and not at all natural my Spanish was when I arrived at my university where I was then taught by Argentinians, Mexicans, and Spaniards. After 4 years of mixing my textbook Spanish with three different accents coming from my professors, I moved to Argentina. Once again, my Spanish was just not quite right.
Can’t a girl catch a break?
The simple answer is no. There are just too many countries that speak Spanish for anyone to ever master every “dialect” of Spanish, not even native speakers.
I am a fluent Spanish speaker. I feel confident speaking, writing, listening to music, watching movies, etc., all in Spanish. While I was taught textbook Spanish and do well with Spanish from many countries, my Spanish is mostly Argentine. My boyfriend is Puerto Rican, born and raised. You’d think we’d have no trouble understanding each other. Wrong!
The first few times we communicated in Spanish, we were still in our awkward dating phase, so we pretended to understand every word the other was saying. We later dropped the act and just started making fun of the strange words and pronunciations the other used. Here are a few of my favorites:
I say: Llámame (shYA-ma-me) – Call me
After getting a blank stare from the boyfriend, I tried again with “llamáme” (ya-MA-me). Why the confusion? It comes from two differences: the pronunciation of Ll in Argentina versus other countries and the location of the accent in the word. For Argentinians, Ll starting a word is an SH sound while for most other speakers it is a Y sound. Also, in Argentina the vos conjugation places the accent on a different part of the word than most other countries. Combining these two differences into one word results in a blank stare from the boyfriend.
He says: Bichería
I broke into a fit of giggles. You see, before meeting a Puerto Rican, the Word “bicho” only meant “bug” to me, but I later learned that “bicho” means “cock/dick” in Puerto Rico. So, when my boyfriend first said “bichería” I couldn’t stop giggling as I asked him “So that means what? A cockery?!”
After he took a moment to think about it he also started laughing and said “I never thought about it before, but yes, that’s basically what it means”
I say: “¡Es lo más!” (Literally “it’s the most!” but used in Argentina to say “it’s the best!”)
This earned me a face palm from my boyfriend. He said I sounded like a complete nerd from the 60’s. He added that I might as well say “¡es lo máximo!” to complete the cheese factor. I swear, In Argentina it’s totally hip and normal!
He says: jangueando (hanging out)
My response? “¿Jangueando? Like to hang, in Spanglish?! That’s so Puerto Rican!” He countered saying that my phrase of choice (pasando tiempo) takes way too long to say.
I find our occasional confusion due to strange pronunciation, odd vocabulary, and just unfamiliar use of the language infinitely amusing.
What funny differences have you encountered with Argentina vs. Puerto Rico Spanish or when speaking with someone from a country you are not familiar with?
To learn more about the Spanish from Argentina, check out the book Speaking Argento: A Guide to Spanish from Argentina. If you are on the Puerto Rican side, take a look at the book Speaking Boricua: A Guide to Puerto Rican Spanish.
Check out these other articles about How to Speak Spanish.