Getting Found Out
For many traveling Latin American, and in particular Argentina, a common point of confusion is the difference between the different Spanish spoken in different countries. Often, after months or even years of learning, a traveler will walk in to a shop or restaurant with the utmost confidence in their grasp of the language. What happens inside sometimes remains a mystery, but it is not uncommon to see that traveler exit the said establishment a nervous wreck, sweating and gasping for air, struggling to get a coherent word out before leaving the scene as quickly as possible. Whether I am over-dramatising the scenario is neither here nor there. What is important is to be prepared for what may occur when conversing with locals before you end up the same way. The Idea behind this article is therefore to enlighten you, the reader, on (some of) the differences between what you may have learned at home and what you will hear (and hopefully speak) here in Argentina.
Let’s just start by clarifying that although there are differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain (Castellano) and the Spanish spoken in Argentina (Castellano Del Río De La Plata), these differences are mainly superficial. Much like differences between (real) English and American English, comprehension largely exists between the two and usually differences will just result in humorous remarks or wry smiles. You are unlikely to put yourself in hot water, just a state of mild embarrassment. However, this can quickly upgrade to a higher level of embarrassment if you are not so good at handling awkward silences.
Let’s see what we’re dealing with…
Grammar – vos the problem with tú?
One of the most common problems is coming to terms with Argentinean grammar is the use of the informal second person singular pronoun vos instead of tú. Vos is more or less the equivalent to ‘thee’ in English, which can give you a nice Shakespearean twang, should you use it in Spain. The conjugation of vos is actually simpler than tú, as there are no irregular verbs to deal with other than ser, which changes to sos instead of eres. For example:
- Dormir: tú duermes –> vos dormís
- Venir: tú vienes –> vos venís
- Mostrar: tú muestras –> vos mostras
- Ser: tú eres –> vos sos
Vos is used across the country, and it is perhaps the most noticeable difference to foreigners hearing it for the first time. However, Argentineans will accept tú with only a mild sense of amusement. If you really want to fit in though, vos has to become your staple.
The use of vos also has another implication. Its success meant the vosotros form used in Spain never really made it big this side of the Atlantic. When addressing a group, ustedes is used regardless of formality. So quite simply, one pronoun has been replaced by another shorter, easier pronoun. Child’s play.
He never got the hang of Vos...
Accent – a locally misunderstood word
The Argentinean accent is very noticeable, with the local Buenos Aires accent, porteño, a particularly strong one. There are two main characteristics that are identifiable to speakers of original Castellano: The lack of a lisp and the addition of a ‘sh’ sound.
The lisp of the Spanish accent is sometimes a defining feature of Spanish against other languages, however here on the River Plate they have decided to do away with it. I learned my Spanish in Spain and England and can safely say that nothing made me stand out to the Porteños like the way I pronounced the letters ‘z’ and ‘c’. I have had my fair share of remarks since I arrived, but I have endured.
Since shedding my lisp, I have felt like a new man. I feel more confident in myself and feel people take me more seriously. I would recommend shedding your lisp to anyone, so give it a try at www.Expanish.com and change your life for the better.
Ok… The other main difference is the ‘sh’ sound, which is actually more of a French ‘j’ sound sometimes, but aim somewhere between the two and you can’t go too far wrong. By the way, this sound comes about when there is a double ‘l’. For example, ‘¿como se llama?’ would be pronounced ‘¿como se shama?’. Easy, and actually quite fun too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Here’s a taster of some simple (reworked) phrases to get you through the day, first in original Castellano, then in the local tongue:
- ¿De dónde eres? –> ¿De dónde sos?
- Where are you from?
- ¿Cuánto cuesta? –> ¿Cuánto sale?
- How much does it cost?
- Tal Vez/Quizás –> Puede Ser
- No lo sé –> Que sé yo
- I don’t know
Porteños love their slang. If you find yourself on the wrong end of a sentence you don’t understand, don’t worry too much, it’s probably just a few made up words and with hand gestures constructed on a whim. There are over 650* unofficial words in regular use in Argentina, most of these circulating within Buenos Aires, with many more being created every time somebody mispronounces an actual word. However, here are some of the more popular ones that you may need to know:
- Che – roughly used as ‘hey!’, especially when Porteños are angry.
- “¡Che! ¡Dame mi dinero!”
- Tacho - Taxi
- “¡Me voy, llamame un tacho!
- Quilombo – A mess/disaster (literal translation is brothel, careful with this one)
- “¡Tu habitación es un quilombo!”
*not in any way based on facts, do not quote me on this figure.
Other Useful Words
- Strawberries – It’s frutilla. Not fresa, not Godzilla.
- Peaches – It’s duraznos, not melocotón.
- Juice – It’s jugo. It’s definitely not zumo. And even that wouldn’t be with a lisp.
- Computer – Computador. Much easier to use than an ordenador.
- Potato – Papa ain’t your daddy, it’s a potato.
- To take – Tomar. Por favor, no coges el bus. Hay mujeres y niños adentro.
- Tortilla – The Mexican flatbread, not that whole Spanish omelet fiasco.
- Nightclub – Boliche. Discoteca sounds lame.
- Sandwich – Sandwich
To wrap it up
Good luck getting by.