So you want to study abroad to grow your Spanish skillset? Learning the second most spoken language in the world will be great for your future career, building deeper relationships, and is an extremely marketable skill. There are at least twenty countries in the world where Spanish is an official language. If you can’t visit them all, how do you choose just one? Hopefully, this blog will help you decide which one is best for you! I have studied abroad as a student, and have participated in site visits as an employee of a Spanish immersion-focused study abroad program Sol Education Abroad (SOL). At SOL, a question I often get asked is how the Spanish accents vary. In this blog I will focus on dialect and the main reasons why I have loved my time in each of the Spanish-speaking locations I have been to.
My study abroad experience took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina during the summer of 2015. When deciding which country to study abroad in, my study abroad advisor told me that Buenos Aires would be a perfect fit to build my Spanish skills. “If you can understand the Argentinian accent, you can understand any Spanish accent!”
I quickly found out she was right! Porteños, or people from Buenos Aires, have a unique accent that took some getting used to. I learned about three main differences that set porteños apart. The first difference was that instead of pronouncing double l’s like in “calle” (street) with a “ya” sound, they pronounce it with a “sh” sound. Secondly, I noticed that “vos” is used instead of “tu.” Along with this, “vos” has its own unique conjugation that I had to learn. Instead of “tu entiendes,” porteños would say “vos entendés.”
It was a challenge at first to adapt to these new rules, but it forced me to work harder at my comprehension skills. Interestingly, the pronunciation particularities are really only prevalent in Buenos Aires. If you travel to other parts of Argentina, you will hear a more neutral Spanish spoken. My time in Buenos Aires will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first time I traveled by myself, and my first time riding in a subway!
For my next trip, I traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks in the summer of 2017. Luckily, the Spanish spoken in Costa Rica is extremely neutral. Some people even describe it as not having an accent at all. This makes it very easy to understand, and because of that, it is an excellent destination for first-time travelers or students who are starting to learn Spanish. I also found that everyone I encountered – host families, waiters, tour guides, and store owners – were all very patient with me and were helpful if I happened to say something incorrectly.
A major reason why I love Costa Rica and think it is a perfect location for students is that it is well-suited for weekend travel. Costa Rica is quite small and has such a variety of ecosystems to discover. The bus system is simple, and if you travel with a study abroad program, your directors will usually help you book your own excursion!
Next on my list was Spain! I traveled to Spain in April of 2019. First, I spent a weekend in Madrid, then two weeks in Granada.
I had always been warned about the Spanish accent and the “Spanish lisp” but had no problem understanding it. I learned that the lisp is used to differentiate the pronunciation between an “s” and “c” or “z” (which are pronounced with a “th” sound). The Spaniard accent definitely has a different rhythm than the Latin American Spanish I was used to; however, I always felt like I was able to understand everyone, so don’t be steered away from this enchanting country!
One of my favorite things about Spain, and Granada specifically, is the “tapa” culture. Tapas are a small snack that is brought out with each drink order. In Granada, these were always free, unlike the rest of Spain. If you plan it right, you can have a free “dinner” while exploring some of the best restaurants and bars that Granada has to offer!
My most recent trip has been to Oaxaca, Mexico. I have been living in Oaxaca for the past four months and am loving my time here! I have discovered that Spanish in Mexico is relatively neutral. There are slightly different accents depending on which part of the country you are in, much like the United States, but they have not been difficult to understand.
One tricky thing is that Mexicans are notorious for having a lot of slang terms. It can take a while to pick up on all of them, but you’ll certainly fit in once you do! Out of all of the Spanish-speaking countries that I have been to so far, Mexico has the most slang words. I’m learning that there is probably so much slang because Mexicans like to have fun, even with their language!
You can’t go wrong with whichever Spanish-speaking country you chose to study in! Any study abroad experience will help you advance your comprehension, speaking skills, and world-view tremendously.
The best suggestions that I can give are to stay with a host family and speak Spanish to as many people as possible. Living with a host family is where you will get the majority of your exposure to the Spanish language and immersion in the local culture. You are able to speak Spanish without judgment and your family is always happy to help you with any doubts or questions. I also encourage you to meet as many locals as possible. Speaking with locals will do wonders for your Spanish conversation skills. Hopefully, you will have the chance to travel to numerous Spanish-speaking countries and become a master of this beautiful language!
Monica Guajardo with SOL Education Abroad