Spanish is just as diverse as the number of countries that speak it (20 officially, by the way). Each region has a different type of Spanish and today we go deep into the language to explain it all to you.
All these different types of Spanish differ because of several key dialect differences in how the language is spoken. We’ve covered that too if you want to dive even deeper into understanding the varieties of Spanish.
I’ve been asked whether type, dialect or variety are all appropriate words to describe the different ways Spanish is spoken. I use the three interchangeably, and while some linguists may disapprove and prefer to say dialect, most of us understand its just a way of categorizing them.
Speaking of Spanish, just note that it is called Castilian in Spain since it originated in Castilla, Spain. Given there is several official languages in Spain, they reserve calling any of their languages Spanish.
However, in Latin America, since the Spaniards spoke Castilian during the colonization of the Americas, it’s called Spanish. There’s your fun fact for trivia night. Say castellano in Spain and elsewhere when you want to sound like you’ve read Don Quixote.
If you’re reading this to find out where to learn Spanish, let me save you some time.
Almost all established Spanish language schools will teach neutral Spanish. This means that what they teach is the formal Spanish (that everyone understands) and they will explain regional differences to you.
It’s fair to decide to focus on a variant of Spanish because more people speak it in your area. Just know that if you take a Spanish course abroad or take Spanish online, the Spanish you learn will be applicable everywhere.
Let’s dive in!
List of Different Types of Spanish by Approximate Number of Speakers
Mexican and Central American Spanish: 165 million speakers
Andean Spanish: 113 million speakers
Rioplatense Spanish: 68 million speakers
Caribbean Spanish: 62 million speakers
Castilian Spanish: 47 million speakers
Chilean Spanish: 20 million speakers
Andalusian Spanish: 9 million speakers
Canarian Spanish: 2 million speakers
Murcian Spanish: 1.5 million speakers
Equatoguinean Spanish: 1.2 million speakers
Gibralter Spanish: 34,000 speakers
Numbers are approximate and calculated based on population estimates. Since many varieties cross borders, these shouldn’t be taken as official numbers.
List of Dialect Differences in Spanish
When reading through the different types of Spanish, you will notice that many types share common attributes. The most common attributes found between the different types of Spanish are:
You can click on the list above to understand in more detail each attribute. Under each type of Spanish, I note what attributes are present.
Mexican and Central American Spanish (165 Million Speakers)
Mexican and Central American Spanish is spoken by over 165 million speakers. It is the most common type of Spanish and it is also the most widely spoken type of Spanish in the United States.
This type of Spanish is characterized by the seseo, where ‘z’ and ‘s’ sound like the English ‘s’. It also does not use the vosotros and instead uses ustedes as the informal second person plural.
Andean Spanish (113 Million Speakers)
Andean Spanish is mainly spoken in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, with some parts of Venezuela included. It is very similar to Mexican and Central American Spanish, where the ending ‘s’ are pronounced, and seseo is used.
Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as southern Peru, differ from the rest of Andean Spanish in that there is no yeísmo so ‘y’ and ‘ll’ do not sound the same.
Rioplatense Spanish (68 Million Speakers)
Rioplatense Spanish is spoken in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Eastern Bolivia. The name comes from the Rio de la Plata which borders Uruguay and Argentina. This type of Spanish is distinguished by substitution of the double L with an [sh] sound.
Another distinction is the use of vos (Voseo) as a substitute for ‘tú’. Instead of saying ‘tú comes’ it is ‘vos comís’.
Caribbean Spanish (62 Million Speakers)
Carribean Spanish is spoken in Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Puerto Rico, and parts of Colombia’s coast. A key distinction that is found particularly in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico is the pronunciation of the rolling ‘r’ as a strong [h].
Castilian Spanish (47 Million Speakers)
Castilian Spanish is spoken in Spain by around 46.4 million speakers. It mostly distinguishes from most types of Latin American Spanish by the use of vosotros and the different pronunciation between ‘z’ and ‘s’, called distinción. That is what gives Castilian Spanish its unique thicker accent.
Chilean Spanish (20 Million Speakers)
Chilean Spanish is spoken in Chile by around 19 million speakers. It shares a lot in common with Rioplatense Spanish, where Vos is used, but distinguished from the dropping of the ‘s’ in vos.
Instead of ‘vos comís’ they would say ‘vo comí’. Another difference is that they may combine the verb conjugation for ‘voseo’ with the ‘tú’. Instead of saying ‘vo cantái’, it is ’tú cantái’ for “you sing”.
Andalusian Spanish (9 Million Speakers)
Spoken mostly in the Andalusian region and in Southern Spain by 8 to 9 million speakers. It is a much softer Spanish than Castilian Spanish because they don’t pronounce the ‘r’ and ‘d’ consonants.
Some say that Spanish in Latin America is based off Andalusian Spanish since the use of ustedes as the second person plural (versus vosotros) is common. However, instead of seseo, there’s ceceo, where ‘z’ and ‘s’ sound like the English [th].
Canarian Spanish (2 Million Speakers)
Canarian Spanish is similar the Caribbean Spanish dialect and is spoken by over 2 million speakers. It is characterized by the pronunciation of the letter ‘h’ and aspirated ‘s’. It is spoken in the Canary Islands, and also uses the ustedes as the second-person plural instead of vosotros. Other characteristics include the seseo, where ‘s’ and ‘z’ sound the same.
Murcian Spanish (1.5 Million Speakers)
Murcian Spanish is spoken by at most 1.5 million speakers and is mostly present in the Murcia autonomous community of Spain. There isn’t extensive detail on its differences with Andalusian Spanish, but it does tend to aspirate the ‘s’ for [h] and also the j (debuccalization). The phrase ‘no es justo’ would sound like [no eh hutto]. It also has unique words, like saying carlota for carrot instead of zanahoria.
Equatoguinean Spanish (1.2 Million Speakers)
Equatoguinean Spanish is spoken in Equatorial Guinea by 1.2 million speakers. Located in Western Africa, Equatorial Guinea was formerly a Spanish colony. Its Spanish sounds similar to Castilian Spanish but has heavy influence from regional African languages.
One key distinction of Equatoguinean Spanish is that instead of using the ‘a’ preposition, they use the ‘en’ preposition.
Gibralter Spanish (34 thousand Speakers)
Spoken in Gibraltar by around 34 thousand speakers, Gibralter Spanish is also known as Llanito. It is a combination of Andalusian Spanish and English. Since it is a British territory but was historically Spanish, its Spanish has evolved to be its own form of Spanglish.
Distinción (distinction in English) is a difference in Spanish where the sounds [th] (θ or theta in Greek) and [s] sound differently. In these circumstances it’s usually a difference in pronunciation with the letter ‘z’. In varieties from Spain, distinction is quite common. A great example is the difference between casar (to marry) and cazar (to hunt).
In Spain, cazar would be pronounced [cathar] and casar would be pronounced with the [s] as it sounds in English.
Seseo is the opposite of distinción. In the case of seseo, the verbs cazar and casar sound the same, using the [s] sound that is also found in English. Seseo is most common in Latin America but you also find it in the Canary Islands.
Ceceo is similar to seseo in that ‘s’ and ‘z’ sound the same, but instead of being pronounced like [s], they are both pronounced like the English [th] (θ or theta in Greek). In the varieties of Spanish that use ceceo, the letter C is also pronounced [th] whenever it’s before an ‘i’ or an ’e’.
Ceceo is less commonly found, but it is widely used in Andalusian Spanish, in Andalusia (Southern Spain).
Old Spanish distinguished between the pronunciation of LL and Y. With yeísmo, the pronunciation of both is like the [j] in Joseph. Yeísmo is commonly found in Mexican and Central American Spanish, as well as in Castilian Spanish. The places that don’t use yeísmo are typically more rural or have been heavily influenced by native languages that do have a similar distinction.
Debuccalization is when a consonant is pronounced differently by changing where it is articulated. In Spanish, that typically means that the ending ‘s’ is changed to sound like an [h]. This term is also often called aspiration.
Voseo is the practice of saying vos instead of ‘tú’ when referring to the singular “you”. This change also affects the conjugation of the verbs. Instead of saying “tú amas”, with el voseo you say “vos amáis”.
In chile, Voseo changes slightly. The s is typically dropped from both the person and verb. Instead of “vos amáis”, it is “vo amái” with the vos also optionally being substited by ‘tú’ for ‘tú amái’.
In Spain, it is more common to use the present perfect tense, such as “I have landed”, instead of the simple past “I landed”, which is more common in Latin America.
Depending on how time is perceived, the usage of the perfect tense or the simple past varies. In Spain, something that has happened within the current year includes the present. In that case, the phrase “Este año he corrido” (This year I have run), would be used.
In Latin America, the event is considered in the past and people would typically say “Este año corrí” (I ran this year).
There are other less known differences between the different types of Spanish. In some varieties of Spanish, the double L (LL) is pronounced as an [sh] sound. Instead of saying valle or valley as [vaye] it is pronounced as [vashe]. This difference is common in Argentinian and Uruguayan type of Spanish.
The letter X also varies in pronunciation. Old Spanish sometimes used ‘x’ similar to ‘j’, where it is pronounced as [h] instead of [x]. The names Xavier and Javier are great examples.
The RR: Most types of Spanish pronounce the ‘rr’ as a rolling ‘r’. However, in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, it is articulated at the back of the mouth and sound more like a strong [h].
Loaned phonetics and suffix changes are also common. In these cases, elements of the dominant language prior to colonization made their way to the local Spanish vocabulary. For example, Mexican Spanish utilizes the -le suffix to give emphasis. The verb run, correr, would be emphasized in the imperative ‘corre’ and changed to ‘córrele’. This is attributed the Nahuatl influence on Mexican Spanish, but its origins are disputed.
You should learn neutral Spanish, which is essentially formal Spanish. Despite the regional varieties of Spanish, the backbone of the language is the same. Learning neutral Spanish allows you to understand all the different types of Spanish.
When you are learning Spanish with language schools (be it online or in-person), they teach neutral Spanish that you can use anywhere. The benefit of this is that in the language school you will learn the Spanish that any Spanish speaker will understand, regardless of the different types of Spanish they speak, and you will learn the local type of Spanish by exploring the city and engaging in regular conversation.
Most schools will also include some lessons on the local type of Spanish and what distinguishes it from the different types of Spanish. These lessons can be a great addition to a Spanish immersion course abroad, especially if you are particularly interested in the Spanish of that country.
The best place to learn Spanish is wherever you will be most inspired by the language and culture. I know it sounds cheesy, but you can learn Spanish anywhere, even at home. So if you are not sure of where to go, look up the different countries and see which place you are curious about the most.
You may be more curious about Mexico if you live in the US, since it’s the form of Spanish most spoken in the USA. Or you may be yearning to go to Argentina or Chile and visit another continent. Go there!
With reputable schools you will learn neutral Spanish that you can apply anywhere you go. Accents may change between regions, but you soon learn to distinguish the different types of Spanish and pick-up local expressions.
If you are looking for a Spanish course abroad, check out our partner schools. Or take a look at our Spanish courses online, they start at $10 USD an hour and are an excellent way to learn Spanish with professional teachers.