Tag Archives: Spanish language

Why does the Spanish language vary within Latin America?

Latin America encompasses a group of nations where the vast majority of their population speaks romance languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

As a result, it is a much broader category than Ibero-America or Hispanic America. The term was first coined by the Chilean politician Francisco Bilbao in 1856. Since then, we use it to refer to 20 counties and 14 dependent territories covering an area that stretches from Baja California to Tierra del Fuego. 

Millions of people live in Latin America — 626 million, to be exact. And out of those 626 million people, 422 million speak predominantly Spanish. But, it would be wrong to assume that they all speak the same Spanish. In Latin America (LATAM), there are many Spanish language variations and dialects. The differences in Latin American Spanish stem from three key elements:

  1. Territory 
  2. History 
  3. Migration 

Below, we will explain in depth each of these elements for you to have a better understanding:

1. Territory

Geographically speaking, Latin America starts in Monumento 206, located in Baja California (Mexico) and ends with Tierra del Fuego (an archipelago shared by Chile and Argentina.) It covers a massive territory of 7,412,000 square miles or 19,197,000 km2.

Throughout this extensive land, we find 33 nations, including Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Co-operative Republic of Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Santa Lucia, Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela (also known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.) 

Therefore, the variations in language are closely related to the magnitude of the territory. 

2. History

We have first to know its history to understand the subtle (and not so subtle) differences of the Latin American Spanish language.

It all dates back to the 15th century when the European explorer Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas. As a result of what historians call “hispanization,” Spanish was established as the primary language in the region. But, despite the efforts of the Spaniards to eradicate all other languages, they were outnumbered. Consequently, Spanish blended with many indigenous dialects spoken by the natives. 

There are over 37 indigenous language families and more than 448 languages. These vary from region to region and affect the way Latin American Spanish language is perceived on each region. Some of the most popular dialects include Quechua, Wayuu, Nahuatl, Guarani, Aymara, Arawakan, Macro-Ge, Panoan, and more. 

3. Migration

Another significant factor was migration. Latin America is considered the world’s melting pot. Here, many different cultures came together. Apart from the strong Castilian influences with some Andalusian and Canary inflections, Latin American Spanish has also some traces of French, Portuguese, and even Italian. 

Why? The answer is simple: migration. Between the 1830s and 1950s, many Europeans migrated to LATAM in search of a better future. And after World War I and World War II, it intensified. During this time, there was a massive exodus where millions of Europeans made their way to countries in Latin America. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Venezuela were some of the most sought of countries. 

As a result, most LATAM countries’ Spanish adopted colloquialism and words from other romance languages.

Additionally, we need to consider the 14 dependent territories that are in the area and how that has also created subtle differences in the Spanish of each region. 

Variations of Spanish 

Now that we understand the main reasons as to why these variations exist, we can move on to the most common types of Spanish or “variants” found in LATAM:

• Amazonic Spanish – sometimes referred to as Amazonian Spanish or Jungle Spanish. It is spoken in the depths of the Amazon jungle in Ecuador, Peru, and the southern parts of Venezuela and Colombia. 

• Caribbean Spanish – it encompasses most of the territories in the Caribbean, hence its name. It is native to countries like Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto. However, it is also found in the coastal areas of Venezuela, Colombia, and eastern Panama. It has a lot of influence from the Spanish of the Canary Islands in Spain. 

 Central American Spanish – it encompasses many countries as it is the name given to the Spanish spoken in all Central America, which includes Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and some parts of Panama. 

• Andean Spanish – spread through the Andes region, this variation of Spanish is very similar to the Castilian Spanish. However, it has a strong indigenous influence. It is spoken from western Venezuela and Southern Colombian to the northern region of Chile and the northwestern region of Argentina. 

• Ecuadorian Spanish – it is mostly spoken in Ecuador, but it extends to certain parts of Colombia and Peru. Ecuadorian Spanish is considered by many to be a blend between Caribbean Spanish and Andean Spanish. 

• Mexican Spanish – the Spanish language spoken in Mexico has a heavy indigenous influence, especially from the Nahuatl dialect. Many indigenous, words are still used every day (i.e. “cuate” or “chocolate”.) Mexican Spanish is the most widely-known dialect, given that Mexico is the largest Latin American country (after Brazil). According to recent data, over 126.2 million people speak this language. 

Other smaller variations could be considered a dialect or type of Spanish in itself, such as Peruvian Spanish, Chilean Spanish, and Puerto Rican Spanish. Nonetheless, these could easily fit within one of the broader categories mentioned above. 

Thus, it is safe to say that Latin American Spanish is a vibrant and complex language that cannot be limited or generalized. But do not worry! It doesn’t matter if you are speaking to someone from Bolivia or Venezuela or if you are traveling to Mexico or Costa Rica. The great thing about LATAM Spanish is that natives will understand what you are saying even if you are not speaking their dialect. Although Spanish varies from one country to the next, all dialects (as we mentioned before) come from the same romantic root, same historical influences, and the same migration patterns.

What’s the difference between Tener que and hay que in Spanish?

“Does the difference between ‘Hay que’ and ‘Tener que’ seem difficult to you? As you probably already know, Spaniards tend to complicate things. They also aim to be very specific about many aspects, which is why they have around 100 different words and expressions to convey the same idea. ‘Hay que’ and ‘Tener que’ could serve as a good example of different ways to express the same thing… well, not exactly the same thing, but we will delve into that shortly.

The problem that I am going to discuss with you today is about expressing obligation or necessity. In English we have modal verbs that help us with this matter. However, in Spanish, we have two expressions with very similar meaning: tener que and hay que.

Tener que in Spanish

Tener que + infinitive is as mentioned before, an expression used for either an obligation or a necessity. It could be translated into “have to”. To be more precise, it means that a person has to do something. In this case, the verb tener is conjugated according to the subject of your sentence. Below are some examples that will hopefully clarify the situation a bit.

  • Tengo que hacer mis deberes. (= I have to/need to do my homework.)
  • Mañana tenenemos que despertarnos temprano. (= We have to/ need to wake up early tomorrow.)
  • Juan tiene que lavar el coche. (= John has to/ needs to do wash the car.)

Hay que in Spanish

Hay que + infinitive is also used to express either an obligation or a necessity. So, why then do we really need to have two expressions to say the same thing? Well, remember how I said that we will get to this topic later. That “later” is finally here.

What does ‘hay que’ mean?

The expression hay que + infinitive means “it should be done”.  You will usually translate it as “something is necessary”, “something should be done”.

Examples:

  • Hay que tener cuidado con el fuego. (= It is necessary to be careful with the fire.)
  • Hay que aprender a hablar alemán para entenderlos. (= It is necessary to learn German in order to understand them.)
  • Hay que limpiar la casa. (= The house should be cleaned.)

The nuances of ‘hay que’

Notice that there is no subject and the expression stays always the same. This means that ‘hay que’ is a little more subtle. You are not saying that someone specific has to do this thing, but if you and your listener are alone in the room, they will understand, right? So when you use ‘hay que,’ you are kind of mixing it to make the obligation of doing something clear and asking the other person to actually do it.

  • Hay que salir a sacar la basura. (=Someone/You have to go out to take out the garbage).
  • Hay que sacar a pasear al perro. (=Someone/You have to take the dog for a walk.)

House chores and other ‘obligations’ are a very common topic where someone might use ‘hay que’ to try to have their partner do it instead of themselves.

Below is an example to help show the difference between the two expressions:

  • Juan ha manchado la camiseta. Él tiene que lavarla. ( = John has stained the t-shirt. He has to wash it.)
  • La camiseta tiene una mancha. Hay que lavarla. (= The t-shirt has a stain on it. It should be washed.)

As you can see, Spanish language is not so hard after all. Even though the two expressions mean the same thing, there are different and help you understand the situation better. If you want another explanation for this grammar problem, do check this out. You also want to check out the blog post about the main differences between the indicative and the subjunctive. Why? Because this is one of the main errors that people make when learning Spanish.

New Year’s Resolutions – Milestones to Reach in the Spanish Language

New Year Resolution to improve Spanish Language
Fireworksflickr photo shared by bayasaa under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

It’s that time of year and if you’re looking to reach new heights in your efforts to perfect the Spanish language a New Year’s Resolution could be the perfect way to reach your goals. Below, I’ll outline some important considerations and suggestions for making your New Year’s Resolution.

Choose a Measureable Goal to Achieve While You Study Spanish

New Year’s Resolutions should be somewhat monumental and challenging, but also reasonable. You’ll need to make a resolution that you can break into smaller measureable chunks so that you can track your progress and keep motivated throughout the year. Some examples of great measureable goals would be:

  • Overall Resolution: Improve Spanish conversation skills
    • Chunks:
      • Find a conversation partner
      • Practice 30 minutes every week
      • Choose a new verb tense or topic each week
    • Overall Resolution: Increase Spanish vocabulary
      • Chunks:
        • Choose 3 words every Monday to learn
        • Place the words in post-it notes on your mirror
        • Use each word in 5 written sentences throughout the week

These resolutions seem broad and challenging – but by breaking each goal into chunks or steps, the goals become measureable and achievable. You’ll be able to see if you’re on track to reaching your goal because it’s easy to know if you’ve kept your promise or not. Either you conversed 30 minutes in a week or you didn’t. You chose 3 words on Monday or you didn’t. These help keep you accountable and also give you a great feeling of accomplishment when you can check off the task.

Extra Tip: Grab a buddy

One reason New Year’s Resolutions sometimes are left unfulfilled is a lack of accountability. If you don’t tell anyone about your goal, all you’ve got is your own willpower in order to succeed. However, if you spread the word or better yet, get someone to team up and do your resolution with you, you’ll be more likely to succeed. Just having someone who asks you about your progress can be helpful. However, getting someone to walk alongside you and complete each step with you is even better as you’ll both become more invested in reaching the goal.

Extra Tip: Give Yourself Some Incentive to Study Spanish

Consider adding some incentive for yourself when you reach your goal by planning a trip or big Spanish party to finish off 2016. You could host a Spanish language party complete with Spanish music or movies and food. Or you could plan a trip to a Spanish speaking country! Either of these ideas would give you a great way to practice your Spanish skills obtained throughout the year. By having something to look forward to and plan for towards the end of the year, you’ll increase your motivation to reach your Spanish language goals.

The possibilities for reaching new goals in Spanish as a New Year’s Resolution are endless. Perfect your use of the tenses, read novels in Spanish, write your own autobiography in Spanish using the imperfect and preterit tenses, watch and understand the news in Spanish; all of these are great ideas to give your Spanish language skills a push this year.

What is your Spanish New Year’s Resolution?

 

3 authors to practice Spanish – Advanced level

Maybe you are looking for ways to hone your Spanish language skills. If that is your case, my first recommendation is you to try my Spanish language class by Skype, but if you are looking for some reading and your level is advanced, let me talk to you about one very Spanish way of writing:

Magical Realism in Spanish

The letters on the screen pulsate and flicker, as if they are about to tumble onto the keyboard below. Black and white, black and white, what color will it end on? Was it just the computer? Or is it just easy to get lost between the spaces? The screen vibrates with electricity and for some reason the keyboard trembles as two words are typed out: realismo mágico.

Known as magical realism in English, it is a genre that can best be described as the literary equivalent of HDTV (or High Definition Television). It brings out the mysterious and hyper-realistic textual imagery of the mundane in such a way as to make it seem fantastic.

Three well-known Spanish language authors known for such an artistic endeavor are Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, and Carlos Fuentes. If you are looking to practice your Spanish reading comprehension, they are a good choice that will not only help you expand your vocabulary but will also help you see things in an interesting light.

Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American author who first received literary acclaim with the 1982 debut of her book La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits). The need for love and liberty is at the axis of the wheel upon which the actions of the characters revolve. The Del Valle and the Trueba families offer two political views of the world – the first is progressive and the latter is conservative. The women are clairvoyants and the men live anguished lives among them. There is love and revenge, conspiracy and terror.

Gabriel García Márquez was a Colombian author whose greatest work Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) tells the Liberal political story of Colombia’s historical evolution from a colonial lifestyle to that of trains, industrialism, and a military massacre. Seven generations of turmoil are explored and at the end one is left asking if any of it could have been prevented if the men of the family had been able to decipher and believe in the mystical ability to see beyond their immediate lives. You may learn more about Márquez on the Nobel Prize page dedicated to this author.

Carlos Fuentes was a Mexican author whose best work was perhaps the book La muerte de Artemio Cruz (The Death of Artemio Cruz). It is a little dark in that it is told from the deathbed of Artemio, who remembers his life as a corrupt jack of many trades. He is the embodiment of the Mexican Revolution, with an agonizing death surrounding his thoughts on religion, scandals, and his attachments to sensuousness all cutting out pieces of him. What is to be expected of a soldier or a politician, a journalist or a tycoon, or even a lover, especially if corrupt – he was all of those and more!

Do you need a review of a book in Spanish?

I can write it for you. Actually, I have a blog dedicated to book reviews in Spanish where you can see examples of my writing. Actually, I am a reading animal and love tou keep track about what I have read before.

Contact me if you think that I can help you!

 

Spanish Websites for Spanish Practice

Sometimes it’s hard to fit the right amount of Spanish practice into your schedule, even when you really need it. Maybe you don’t have a fluent Spanish speaker to talk to, or you can’t seem to get good access to a Spanish language radio station. Whatever the reason, the Internet is one of your best resources for darn near everything! If you have a smart phone, tablet, or an eReader (or even an advanced music player) with Internet access, you already have what you need to make those little breaks in your day your Spanish language time. Whatever your interests may be, you should look for topics in your target language that are actually written for a native speaking audience.

Let’s see some websites to practice Spanish reading

A good site for this type of practice is Wikipedia en español. You’ll have, at the click of a button, more than a million publicly-managed articles on any topic! You can follow the link and look at the Spanish version of any Wikipedia entry, while always having the ability to switch to the English version whenever you want (except for when it comes to those rare untranslated articles). This means that you’ll not only be able to practice reading Spanish content, but you’ll also be able to check your reading comprehension. Here is a tip to get more out of each article: click the Discusión tab to see any discussions by Spanish speakers who are editing the entry you are currently reading. Who knows, you may even find yourself participating one day! Looking back at the front portal, you will find featured articles and a listing of current events; you can keep abreast of what is going on in the world and get in some Spanish practice at the same time!

There is another Spanish language website, an encyclopedia of sorts, which focuses on biographical content. It is called Biografias y Vidas (Biographies and Lives), and it will allow you to look up the stories behind the names of very well-known people. It is written by a group of Spanish people and a few freelancers. It has a Monografías (Monographs) section, which has a whole list of key-figures who have impacted the history of Mankind. It also has a Reportajes (Reports) section, which gives the biography, chronology, record of achievements, photos, and videos of famous contemporaries (like the soccer player David Beckham, the author J.K. Rowling, and the singer Britney Spears!).

If you are interested in geography and nature, another good website for Spanish practice would be National Geographic en Español. National Geographic is widely known for its beautiful scenery photographs, but it has been expanding its content and reach. Those people who are not up-to-date on National Geographic content may be pleasantly surprised to even find @RevistaNatGeo on Twitter and Facebook. Its Spanish language website is separated into six different categories, as follows: (1) Traveler; (2) Naturaleza (Nature); (3) El Mundo (The World); (4) Ciencia (Science); (5) Fotografia (Photography); and (6) Video. The Traveler section has the most subcategories, what with Technología (Technology), Lugares (Places), Gastronomía (Gastronomy), Tips, Blog, and Fotogalerias (Photogalleries) all clickable from a drop-down link. You can let your mind soak up all the vibrant colors while getting in a little language practice, too.

Lastly, it is said that one is never too young (or young at heart!) to learn. Depending on one’s language comprehension level, it may also help to look at a country-specific Spanish website, that is, a Spanish website in the Spanish language, directed at children. One such page is called Cuentos y leyendas ilustrados por niños (Stories and legends illustrated by children). The story illustrations were created by around 78 Spanish speaking children, with the help of Spain’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports. The website is broken up into three reading sections (just don’t mind the target age for each level!). Regardless of the level that you choose, there will be several story selections – each will have a dramatic retelling of the story in video form, along with an illustrated version and an interactive activity. There will also be hands-on activities that you may print out.

Going to these sites and practicing your Spanish reading skills for at least fifteen minutes a day will allow you to get a good sense of the little nuances that Spanish may have (when compared with English). If you can print whatever you are interested in (especially as a digital file!), you may save these pages for on-the-go reading. Do what you can, when you can, and you’ll surely be on your way to better fluency.

Common Nonnative Mistakes for Writing in Spanish

At times, writing in Spanish to practice it can be frustrating because the mechanics, nuances, and terms of Spanish language do not translate perfectly to your own native language. Therefore, even learners with a high level of proficiency may still find themselves making nonnative mistakes in their writing after years of practice.

The influence of your native language on the acquisition of a second language is known as language transfer, and this influence can be either positive or negative depending on the similarities between the two languages. Although experience is the most beneficial way to avoid making second language writing mistakes, it can also be helpful to make yourself aware of the most common writing errors that individuals with your native language tend to make when learning a particular second language.

For native English speakers acquiring Spanish, one of the most frequent and noticeable types of errors is making a word order mistake. In both English and Spanish, the basic word order consists of the subject, followed by the verb, followed by the object. In sentences that have this simple structure, the transfer of English to Spanish is actually beneficial because the word order is reinforced in both languages. On the other hand, there are notable differences in the word order of the languages when we get to more complicated structures. For example, in English, the adjective precedes the noun, as in ‘the white cat.’ In Spanish, however, the adjective follows the noun, as in ‘el gato blanco.’ These types of writing errors are easy to make because the learner must think about the language in a manner that is structurally different from how he or she is used to thinking in the native language.

Additionally, another common error for English speakers learning Spanish is the failure to apply the properties of grammatical gender. Spanish has two genders: masculine and feminine. These genders are referred to as ‘grammatical’ in nature when they do not refer to the sex of a living being. For example, the word ‘casa,’ meaning ‘home,’ is a feminine noun in Spanish. The assignment of the feminine gender is completely arbitrary; thus, it is difficult for the nonnative speaker to acquire. When writing, the Spanish learner must not only remember the gender of each noun, but must also be sure to assign the appropriate gender to the article and adjective within the same phrase as the noun. If we want to write ‘the red house,’ in Spanish, we would have to write, ‘la casa roja.’ Each word in this phrase has the –a ending, which is common for feminine words in Spanish.

To make things even more complicated, the rules for marking words as either singular or plural also differ between the two languages. In English, the writer must be sure that the subject and the verb match in number, as in ‘the girl walks’ versus ‘the girls walk.’ When writing in Spanish, it is important to remember that the article, noun, verb, and adjective must match in number, as in ‘la chica camina’ versus ‘las chicas caminan.’ Luckily, the rules for making items plural in Spanish are fairly regular, so this is something that will likely become easier over time.