European Spanish vs Latin American Spanish: What’s the difference?

Posted: 11 Sep 2023

Planning is key

If you’re planning to do any kind of business with Spanish speakers, you’ll need to understand the difference between European Spanish vs Latin American Spanish. While continental Spanish speakers will be able to make themselves understood in Latin America, and vice versa, businesses should be aware of the significant differences in the Spanish language when targeting both markets.

Some fast facts

With around 486 million native speakers, Spanish is second only to Mandarin Chinese in its use around the world. It has official status in 21 countries – and the good news is, if you know it, you’ll be able to make yourself understood wherever you are. European Spanish and Latin American Spanish share the same basic structure and are mutually intelligible, but you’ll find some significant differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and cultural nuances.

If you’re a business with a presence in both Spain and Latin America, you’ll need to fine-tune your spoken and written Spanish language depending on the region or regions in which you’re operating.
The Main Differences Between European Spanish vs Latin American Spanish


Differences in pronunciation are probably the first thing you’ll notice and want to adjust when you’re communicating verbally over the phone or face-to-face with potential customers. Most obvious is the ‘lisp’ that exists across parts of Spain but not Latin America. ‘S’ sounds denoted by c and z (but not ‘s’ itself) are pronounced ‘th’ in Spain, but ‘s’ in Latin America.

There are other differences. For example, the ‘s’ sound at the end of many words is omitted in South America, as it is in parts of southern Spain. Because ‘s’ may be pronounced more softly, in some countries certain words can end up almost losing syllables.

In much of Spain, the ‘ll’ and ‘y’ are pronounced as a ‘y’ sound. However, in most Latin American countries, such as Mexico, ‘ll’ and ‘y’ are pronounced as a ‘j’ sound. For example, in European Spanish: ‘llama’ and ‘pollo’ would be pronounced as ‘yama’ and ‘poyo’, but most Latin American Spanish speakers would say ‘jama’ and ‘pojo’. Similarly, in some regions of Argentina and Uruguay, the ‘ll’ and ‘y’ is pronounced like an English ‘sh’ (e.g. la playa is pronounced ‘la plasha’).


While the core grammar rules stay the same in both variations of the Spanish language there are subtle differences in certain tenses and pronouns. One of the chief differences is that Latin American Spanish does not have a separate pronoun for the second person (informal). In other words, there’s no vosotros, only ustedes. However, some countries – including Argentina and Uruguay – use the old-fashioned form vos, instead of tú, for the second-person singular pronoun. You’ll need to be aware of such differences to ensure you address your clients correctly.


Whilst many words are the same across Spanish-speaking countries, the differences can sometimes be striking. Some everyday items may have different names, and certain words might have entirely different meanings or connotations.

Here are some common ones you’ll probably want to remember:

In Spain, a pen is boligrafo, while in Latin America it might be lapicera (Argentina) or lápiz pasta (Chile).
A potato is patata (Spain), but in Latin American Spanish it’s papa.
‘Ok’ is vale in Spain but okay or bien in South America.

Loan words from English are used much more frequently in South America than in Spain, and their spellings are often left unchanged (like email vs correo electrónico). The good news is that if you’re writing in Spanish, then there are no real differences in spelling. It’s similar to UK and American English in this respect. For example, recognize vs recognise, neighbor vs neighbour, gray vs grey, etc.

Cultural context

Language is deeply connected to culture. Certain words or phrases that are commonly used in one region of Spain might not be understood or could have a different cultural connotation in parts of South America. Being aware of these cultural nuances is essential for effective communication in European Spanish vs Latin American Spanish.
These differences affect everything from accents and regional dialects to local etiquette, behaviour and cultural references. Familiarising yourself with them can help you communicate more effectively with Spanish speakers from different regions. Not to mention that understanding different regional cultures offers marketing managers essential insight into their target audiences.

So, what does this all mean?

Although the Spanish language is more consistent in its use around the world than even English, it’s important to know the differences between European Spanish vs Latin American Spanish. You’ll still find numerous minor but noticeable variations in pronunciation, grammar and terminology. These may be country or even region-specific. When doing business, awareness of regional variations will enable you to adapt and connect better with Spanish speakers from diverse backgrounds. Localising your Spanish language is particularly important if you’re doing business overseas or trying to engage your employees across a range of Spanish-speaking countries.

When booking an interpreter for an upcoming meeting, make sure you request an interpreter native to that country or region. Similarly, when considering the translation of your marketing materials, you may need to organise country-specific translations if you’re targeting multiple markets. After all, a tone of voice or style that works in Spain, might not work in Costa Rica or Chile,

If all this sounds like a bit of a headache, don’t despair! Comtec is here to help. We’re experts in all things languages and will be able to offer advice on how to communicate with your target market. Please don’t hesitate to contact us online or call our friendly team on +44 (0) 1926 335 681 to discuss your needs with us.