To Lithp or Not to Lithp: Learning Spanish in Spain vs. Latin America

by Published

Given that Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the U.S., it’s no wonder so many American students choose Spanish as their foreign language of study. When the time comes to select a place to learn Spanish abroad, students often want to go to a destination that will help them get a leg up on their language studies, but also in the real world.

The tough question becomes: do you want to learn Spanish in Spain or Latin America? Do you rock that lithp or opt to forego the vosotros?

Spanish soccer fans posing together
Conquer new heights in Spain by mastering Spanish!

Here are several ways to differentiate between the two-top Spanish speaking locations that international students choose, to help you decide where to learn Spanish abroad and put your new skills to work:

Language Variations

Not all Spanish is created equal. Just like English, Spanish varies in different countries by accent, pronunciation, slang, and sometimes even grammar. The most common (and the official) form of Spanish spoken in Spain is Castilian, which is the basic Spanish that populates the typical high school Spanish class textbooks. Oftentimes, like we’ve alluded to, the letter “z” or “c” in Castilian Spanish is pronounced like a “th” (i.e. gracias). While all Spaniards generally are taught Castilian Spanish in school, different regions in Spain have different dialects. In Barcelona, the people speak Catalan, a Latin-based tongue but a completely different language than Spanish.

Latin America is similar to Spain in the sense that it also has a great diversity in dialects. For example, Mexican Spanish is not exactly the same as Argentine Spanish in terms of pronunciation and grammar; however, many words are similar. Oftentimes, Latin American Spanish uses words that are more Anglicized than the Spanish spoken in Spain. For example, in Spain a computer is called an ordenador, while in Latin America it is known as a computadora

Latin American countries have their own pronunciation quirks as well, which you should take in to account when deciding which city to learn Spanish in Latin America. In Argentina, the “ll” and “y” sounds are generally pronounced as the “s” in “sure.” Generally, the form of Spanish spoken in the United States is most similar to that spoken in Latin America, as most of the Spanish speaking population in the U.S. hails from South or Central America.

Santiago, Mexico under the Sierra Madre mountains
Latin America boasts more than just excellent Spanish language opportunities

Economic Environment

Most language students are on a set budget, which is why it is important to take the prices of a country into account before deciding where to learn Spanish abroad. Due to the current economic collapse in Spain and the exuberant economic growth in certain Latin American countries, the prices for basic things, such as groceries, rent, and restaurants, have grown to be very similar. Check out the Numbeo cost of living database to be aware of changes.

However, conversion rates between the Latin American currencies and U.S. dollar (USD) are much more generous than those between the Euro and USD. For example, on average you can purchase a meal in a larger city (think: Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Santiago, etc.) for between $5 and $10, a bottle of wine for around $4, and in-city transportation tickets for around 40 cents.

While dinners out in metropolitan cities in either region may cost the same, traveling anywhere outside of Spain is more expensive (around $50 to $75 a ticket), while traveling between Latin American countries is very cheap by comparison. In general, goods and services are much cheaper in Latin America than in the U.S., which stretches the American Dollar as you can buy more for less. As a result, taking Spanish classes is usually cheaper in Latin America than in Spain, which is something to consider.

The cost of your Spanish language studies essentially boils down to the everyday purchasing decisions you make. A semester learning Spanish in Bogota or Cusco could outweigh a semester in Granada or Salamanca, depending on what your budget looks like.

Alicante beach in Spain at sunset
Wash away your worries in Spain and study beachside

Cuisine Differences

Spain and Latin America both have extremely diverse and fascinating food cultures. Just as with language, food differs greatly based on the region. On the Mediterranean coast of Spain, seafood is the name of the game; however, toward the center of the country, different types of cured hams are most prevalent (jam on with your jamon!). The most quintessential Spanish dish, perhaps, is paella, a combination of seafood, meat, saffron, and rice. Tapas, deliciously small dishes that are generally shared with beer or wine, are also a fan favorite.

Due to its size and cultural diversity, food varies even more greatly from country to country in Latin America. Argentina is famous for its beef, where grass-fed steaks can be purchased for a fraction of what they would cost in the United States. In some parts of Latin America, European influence has left its mark on the dinner plate, from pizza and pasta in Mendoza to the incredible desserts of São Paulo. Maize is ever-popular across the region, and the indigenous influence on food reveals itself in the popularity of pies made from pumpkin and other types of squash, locro (thick beef stew), and empanadas (a common lunchtime choice).

View of La Plaza Mayor in Spain
History becomes Spain, and your new Spanish skills will too!

Travel Conveniences

Both Europe and Latin America offer many exciting and beautiful options when it comes to nearby travel perfect for Spanish newbies. From Spain, a student can travel by rail to nearly any country in Western Europe within 24 hours. Countries like France, England, and Belgium are nearby in proximity but significantly more expensive than Spain itself. So, if on a tighter budget, don’t forget about exploring the many different regions of Spain, including the Southern coast and beautiful Galicia in the North.

Latin America is not as geographically concentrated as Europe; however, there are still so (so so!) many wonderful places to visit. Chile alone contains nearly every type of climate within the country itself, from glaciers in Patagonia to wine country in Valle del Maipo to deserts in the North to waterfalls and rolling plains. All of these amazing sites are accessible by bus and extremely inexpensive to visit. Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Paraguay offer their own range of adventures (depending on your time and budget), and if you’re in the mood for Caribbean cool, why not venture to off-the-beaten-path Suriname or Guyana?

Iguazu Falls in Argentina
“Fall” in love with Argentina as you learn Latin American Spanish

Both Spain and Latin America are great options for college students wishing to learn Spanish abroad. Spain offers thousands of years of history and tradition, whereas Latin America does the same, but also embodies the thriving, growing future of the Spanish world. Both choices offer a terrific opportunity to become fluent in Spanish while exposing yourself to a rich and interesting culture.

The next step is choosing a program in the place where you’d like to learn Spanish abroad. Check out hundreds of Spanish language schools on GoAbroad and look into specific destinations to see if learning Spanish in a Latin American country or Spain is the best choice for you!

This article was originally written by Sam McKenzie of Summer Study Programs and published on the GoAbroad Blog, to offer her insight on learning Spanish in Spain vs. Latin America and share some of the differences between the two.

Topic:  Before You Go