When I first arrived in Spain, people told me that when I spoke Spanish, I sounded very Latin American.
I thought it was a very interesting comment. I’d lived in Villavicencio, Colombia for over three years. But by the time I arrived in Madrid, I hadn’t visited Colombia in nearly two years. I thought that, by that time, I’d lost my Colombian accent.
But they didn’t tell me that I sounded Latin American because of my accent. It was because of the words I was using.
Here’s an example. One of my students used to give me a ride to a metro stop closer to my apartment on Fridays. (In Spain, some companies end their Fridays early. I used to teach until the end of the day on Friday, which was 3 P.M. Hello, weekend!)
These Friday afternoon rides were a great time to practice my Spanish with my student, and her other two colleagues she gave a ride to. And very early, on, in those car rides, I learned how different Latin American and European Spanish is, when I was telling them about something funny.
“What did you say?” they asked, laughing.
“Chistoso,” I replied, which made them laugh more.
“Here we say gracioso,” they told me.
Here’s another example of one of my favorite Colombian slang words that really gets on Spaniards’ nerves (and I don’t know why):
They can’t stand it! I don’t understand why. It sounds so much cooler than the European Spanish alternative genial.
These two words are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve had to relearn so many words over the past eight months, and to be honest, some of them still sound weird to me. Like, it makes much more sense for me as a native English speaker to call a desktop a computadora instead of the ordenador alternative.
But you learn eventually. After a lot of people laugh at your chistosos mistakes. Oh, I’m sorry, graciosos.
Here are more Spanish words I’ve had to relearn. If you plan on traveling to Spain, then learn these before you go! I’m sure there are more differences than what I have listed, but this is what I’ve learned so far.
Greetings: How to say hi to someone and not sound awkward
In Colombia, you greet everyone with “Buenos días,” or “Buenas tardes/noches.” The more informal alternative would be “Buenas.” Or, you could say “¿Qué más?” which roughly translates to “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?”
In Spain, people say “Hola.” I don’t think I’ve use “hola” in years. Also, people say “buenos días” until 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Which doesn’t make sense to me. It’s called afternoon. Lunch is around 2pm in Spain.
When people say goodbye in Colombia, a “chao” is sufficient. Here, while it’s not unusual, it’s more common to say “adiós,” or “hasta luego.” If you’re in an elevator, for instance, you always say “hasta luego” when you leave, even if you know you’ll probably never see them again. Because, according to one of my students, not saying anything comes across as cold.
Technology and Communication: Of course it’s not easy
I’m typing this blog post on an ordenador. But in Colombia, I’d be using a computadora. Spaniards think that term sounds outdated, but to me, theirs sounds way more antiquated. It makes me think of a robot.
Let’s say you’re about to email someone. While I’ve heard all Spanish speakers say correo, here in Spain I’ve also heard mail. When you’re about to click something, say “send,” you can hacer clic in Colombia; or in Spain, pinchar.
Let’s say you want to show someone a video – pronounced vi-DAY-oh in Colombia and VEE-day-oh in Spain. “Te voy a enseñar algo,” someone says while they show you something on their phone. You’re going to teach me something? You wonder. That’s what you thought enseñar means. Oh, no, they’re going to show you something – mostrar is apparently more common in Colombia.
Finally, if you’re going to write something down (old fashioned technology!), don’t ask for an esfero if you’re in Spain. Ask for a bolígrafo.
Transportation, and the one word that could get you laughed out of a taxi
One word I agree that the Spaniards have better is coche. Gone are the days where I struggled to roll my r’s with carro. And auto just sounds weird to me.
Manejar and estacionar are two acceptable ways to say drive and park in Colombia. Here in Spain, these words (especially manejar) are a dead giveaway you’re from out of town. People here say conducir and aparcar.
If you want to take the bus, say autobus or bus in Spain; buseta will just give you come confused looks (and apparently, it’s a bad word in Brazilian Portuguese). Taking public transportation is obviously cheaper than driving, and in Madrid, gas and paying for parking all the time gets expensive, caro. In Colombia, it gets costoso.
Finally, whatever you do, do NOT say coger un taxi if you’re in Colombia! Say tomar un taxi. Just stick with tomar wherever you go and you’ll save yourself the potential embarrassment.
One more thing – and this has nothing to do with transport, but I don’t know where else to categorize these words. If you’re upset about traffic, you feel enojado in Colombia, and enfadado in Spain.
Apartments, flats, it’s all the same
In Colombia, I once lived in a departamento. In Spain, I live in a piso. Which is not to be confused with piso in Colombia, which means floor (which in Spain, floor – as in level – is planta).
Are you catching on yet?
You pay your rent, arriendo, with money, plata in Latin America (I learned “plata” in Argentina; I can’t remember if I used it or not in Colombia. Usually I’d say “dinero”). In Spain, you pay the alquiler with pasta. Which is ironic, considering that pasta is also something that you eat when you don’t have a lot of pasta. (Oh, I’m so clever.)
Going Out, do you remember those days? Seems so long ago
And finally, what we long to do once the lockdown is over: socialize, and go to restaurants again.
For starters, restaurants in Spain may not have orange jugo, but they will have zumo. If you ask for French fries, ask for patatas in Spain (like one of my favorite tapas, patatas bravas!), not papas. If you want a cake with your juice, you can have a torta in Spain, and a ponque in Colombia.
For going out at night, you may want to drink some polas with friends in Colombia, or some cañas in Spain.
I couldn’t think of a category for these
Finally, the random words. In Colombia, people say listo for everything. In Spain, they say vale. Also, ustedes sounds too formal in Spain; they prefer vosotros. Which I never learned how to conjugate. They don’t teach you these things in school, and their argument is, “Vosotros is only used in Spain.” Well, now I’m in Spain, and I don’t know how to use it. Genial.
Something else random: in Colombia, people will call kids chinos. For example: “Los chinos estaban jugando” means “The kids were playing.” But in Spain, chinos are similar to dollar stores or convenience stores. You can buy just about anything there. They’re also called a bazar.
And finally, two terms I haven’t figured out their Spanish equivalent:
Ahorita roughly means “in a bit.” Which can be anything from a few minutes to a few hours.
Gracias a dios is something I don’t hear a lot in Spain. I’d hear it a lot in Colombia. Even though Spain has Catholic churches and holidays, I felt like people were more religious in Colombia. I haven’t met as many people here in Spain who practice their faith, but then again, I’m in a big city. Perhaps it’s different in smaller cities. Anyhow, I don’t hear this expression as much.
Are you confused yet?
And these are the things I’ve learned over eight months. I’m sure I’m missing many more. But the longer you stay in a place, the more you acquire their accent and expressions. When I first arrived in Colombia, people said I sounded Argentinean. Now in Spain, people think I sound Latin American (or in some cases, Mexican). I wonder when I’ll start to sound like I’m Spanish.
But hey, it’s all part of the fun. Language, whether it’s a foreign language or your own, is a never-ending journey.
Have you ever learned a second language? Did you find different ways of saying the same thing? Let me know below!
One more thing: I have an Instagram account for my blog! You may have noticed the pictures on the right column (or if you’re viewing this page from a smartphone, on the bottom). Follow my account @inspiredaroundtheworld and let’s be Instagram friends 🙂