4 tips for visiting Spanish speaking countries

Llama lady in traditional clothing in Cusco

Spanish is Spanish wherever you go, right? Wrong! According to Babel, Spanish is the official language in 21 countries and is spoken by more than 557 million people worldwide. Thus, it is fair to say that there is more to the language than you will find in Spain alone! The language can vary quite a bit depending on the country you are traveling to. So here are some top tips for visiting Spanish speaking countries.

Don’t panic!

If you can get used to different accents and pronunciation in English, there is no reason you can’t for Spanish as well. Also, it’s not as though there is an entirely new version of Spanish to learn for each Spanish-speaking country you visit. At the core of the language, the Spanish is the same, but like any dialect or variation there will be subtle, local nuances. It’s fair to say that Latin American Spanish sounds quite different than European Spanish, just like British and American English are both different and the same. Both are mutually intelligible, so learn the basics, and you can build on that once you get there. All is fine!


This word, the plural for you, is one of the differences between Latin American and European Spanish that every Spanish speaker seems to bring up. Language Trainers explains it very simply: you need to learn to conjugate the verb if you’re going to Spain, but nowhere else. For Latin America, they tend to use ustedes to mean the plural for you, but if you say this in Spain it is only for the most formal of occasions.

Different words for the same things

Just like the differences in British and American English, there will be words that vary depending on where you are. Let’s look at a few examples taken from Duolingo. Zumo is juice in Spanish, yet only for Spain; elsewhere it is jugo. A car is coche in Spain yet auto or carro in Latin America. Boy can be chico in Spain and muchacho elsewhere. There are too many differences to list here, but just be aware there might be some, and if all else fails, either point or have an image ready on your phone to help you get your point across!

Faux pas and pitfalls

There are some words that look and sound the same in both Latin and European Spanish yet mean entirely different things, and on occasion, these differences might get you into trouble! So be aware! One example of this is the verb coger, which in Spain means to take, grab, or catch. But in Latin America this is a curse word that rhymes with duck. And on a similar vein, tomar means to take in Spain but means to drink yourself to oblivion in parts of Latin America. So just be careful!

Spanish is a beautiful, rich language, and is fast becoming one of the most important languages we use internationally. Think of all the travel opportunities speaking Spanish will give you! Where are your Spanish adventures starting?


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