People interested in learning Spanish often ask whether there is a difference between Spanish immersion programs in Spain and Spanish immersion courses in Mexico.
Well, in terms of teaching style, there isn’t much, but some Castellano (‘Spain Spanish’) words and phrases are either entirely different or non-existent in other Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico, and vice-versa.
However, while there are plenty of perplexing dialectal and idiomatic differences among countries that share the same native language, it is important to note that most Spanish speakers are able to communicate with each other regardless of their country of origin. Whether you learn Spanish in Spain or Mexico, these differences can be quite comical or frustrating, but are usually understood.
‘Food’ Words & Expressions
There are countless examples of words that completely differ where food is concerned.
In Mexico, young partygoers might complain that they are ‘crudo’ on a Sunday morning. A Spanish native would almost certainly raise an eyebrow at this and ask why on earth they were feeling ‘raw’, since that is the literal translation of the word. In fact, ‘crudo’, in this sense, refers to a hangover – or ‘resaca’ in Castellano Spanish.
Buzzfeed have done a neat job of highlighting some commonly used Mexican slang phrases and what they mean, despite their literal contradictions.
In the Malaga province of Andalucia, on the other hand, one might say in a restaurant “el camarrero me ha hecho el gato”, literally meaning ‘the waiter has done the cat on me’. Mexicans would probably be as confused as you probably are right now if they heard this. What it actually means, in Malaguena Spanish, is that the waiter has tried to cheat you out of money.
Here’s a great post by Devour Malaga Food Tours about typical words and expressions used in the context of food in the Malaga province of Spain.
Paella con Gambas in Spain. Con ‘camarónes’ in Mexico (Source: FlickrCC jlastras)
Everyday food-related words can also cause communication breakdowns. If one finds themselves in a traditional Velencian restaurant, for instance, wanting to order either a gambas (prawns) packed paella or champiñones con ajo (garlic mushrooms), there would be no issue providing the key words were pronounced correctly. In Mexico, however, these ingredients are referred to as camaróns and hongos (champiñones is used in Mexico when referring to a specific type of mushroom).
Now let’s say this restaurant had a variety of juices on its drinks menu. In Mexico they would be referred to as “jugos”, and in Spain, “zumos”. While differences like these are not that common, they probably manifest themselves more often than you’d think – particularly in Mexican restaurants!
More recently coined vocabulary seems to have more variation across Spanish speaking countries. Rather than originating in the Iberian Peninsula, they are globalised and vary from culture to culture, occasionally depending on their English-speaking neighbours. For instance, when discussing their love of the latest smartphones, Spaniards would refer to the devices as “móviles”– clearly a term that has derived from the British English equivolent ‘mobile’ – while Mexicans would look forward to taking selfies on their celulares.
Another example is the contrast for the word ‘computer’. In Spain, the word is ordenador – deriving frome the Spanish verb ordenar (‘to tidy), whereas in Mexico, it would be computadora.
Spain has the third largest network of motorways in the world, so transport vocabulary is useful to know, particularly if you are used to Latin American Spanish. For example, in Mexico, the word for ‘car’ is carro, whereas in Spain the word is coche. Another useful example is ‘bus’ – autobus in Castellano Spanish, camion in Mexican Spanish. Furthermore, ‘ticket’ translates as billette in Spain and boleto in Mexico.
Also, it’s helpful to understand the crucial difference in the use of the Spanish verb coger. In Spain, the motherland so to speak, the verb simply means ‘to take’ – as in coger el autobus (‘to take the bus’) – but in Mexico, you’d prompt wild outbursts of laughter were you to declare that you needed to take the bus using coger, since in this part of the Spanish-speaking world the verb means something very different indeed.
Learning Spanish in Spain or a Latin American country such as Mexico is the most efficient way to become fluent while having the most fun and absorbing cultural experiences. There might be many vocabulary differences to get used to if you plan on using one dialect in another Spanish-speaking country, but this is also true of English and French, so is nothing unusual – it’s just part of the amazing journey that all language learners undertake.