spanish dialects

How Many Spanish Dialects Are There? And Which is the Most Popular

Maria Claudia Alvarado Published on June 3, 2024

Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world, and its reach spans from Europe to the Americas and even to Africa! And even though it’s generally the same language everywhere, local languages and cultures have influenced Spanish over time. This has led to the emergence of different Spanish dialects. Some dialects are very similar while others are totally unique. 

In this guide, I’ll introduce you to the various dialects of Spanish. We’ll take a look at their most important characteristics, what makes them unique, and even find out which is the easiest to learn.

What is a Dialect?

Dialects are particular forms of a language that are spoken in a specific region. This means that the Spanish you hear might change depending on the place you visit. But, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to understand the language. Some variations you might notice are differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. 

The easiest change to notice is the overall pronunciation, but you might also find smaller differences like omitting the sound of consonants in the middle or end of a word. Despite these differences, you’ll be able to understand and communicate with Spanish speakers around the world no matter what dialect you learn.

How Many Dialects of Spanish Are There?

It’s impossible to know the exact number of Spanish dialects that exist today. This is because the Spanish language is constantly evolving, branching, and adapting. At the same time, some dialects are very specific to countries that speak Spanish, or even small communities in Spain or Latin America. The 11 dialects in the list below have characteristics that make them easy to recognize, including changes in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. 

Words and expressions will vary, but the essence of the language stays the same. Spanish speakers might need some time to adjust and understand some dialects, but these are challenges they can easily overcome.

Spanish Dialects of Spain

Castilian Spanish is sometimes referred to as “European Spanish” or “Standard Spanish” and is believed to be the purest form of the language. But there are also other dialects in Spain. In addition to the different dialects, there are also different languages that are spoken in the country. Catalan, Galician, Valencian, and Basque are other co-official languages in Spain. But, you might note that they have helped shape some of the dialects below.

This map shows the different dialects spoken in Spain.
Map of the Spanish dialects spoken in Spain
Translation of the note: The map only shows the varieties of Spanish, not other languages spoken in Spain.

Castilian Spanish

Castilian Spanish is a dialect spoken in the north-central region of Spain and it evolved from Vulgar Latin. King Alfonso popularized the use of Castilian Spanish in the 13th century, and many literary works were translated from Latin to this dialect. In the 15th century, Castilian Spanish was also declared the official dialect of Spain. You can distinguish it from other forms of Spanish because the “c” and “z” are pronounced as a “th.” This is called the “cedilla.”

Andalusian Spanish

Andalusian Spanish is most common in the southern region of Spain (Andalusia). Due to the history of conquest in this area, Arabic influenced this form of Spanish which borrows many words from this language. Note that in Andalusian Spanish, speakers use “ustedes” instead of “vosotros,” and they commonly use the verb “ser” as an auxiliary verb instead of “haber.” You might also notice that the letters “c” and “s” tend to be pronounced interchangeably and the letter “d” has a very soft sound.

Murcian Spanish

Murcian Spanish is spoken in the southeastern region of Spain (Murcia). Due to the location of this region, Murcian Spanish has similar sounds to Catalan, Aragonese, Valencian, and Andalusian. For example, speakers might suppress the sound of the “s” when using plural nouns. Omitting the final letter sound in a word is also a characteristic of Murcian Spanish. Some people also refer to Murcian as “Panocho,” but this term actually describes a branch of the dialect spoken in Huerta de Murcia (Murcia).

Canarian Spanish

As a result of its location and its history with Spain and Portugal, the Canary Islands developed their own unique dialect. Like Andalusian Spanish, Canarian Spanish uses “ustedes” instead of “vosotros” and at times pronounces the “c” like an “s.” The Canary Islands used to be a big trading hub for European countries, which explains why this dialect borrows words from Portuguese, French, and English. Many people also believe Canarian Spanish is the most similar dialect to Caribbean Spanish.

Spanish Dialects of Latin America

The Spanish conquest brought the Spanish language to the American continent. However, each Latin American region already had native people speaking a set of indigenous languages. These indigenous languages never disappeared, but as Spanish became the dominant language, it adopted different characteristics of these languages including pronunciation and vocabulary. Because of its wide geographical area, there are many dialects active in Latin America. This can make learning Spanish challenging, but in a fun way! Here are some of the most common Spanish dialects in this region:

This map shows the dialects you can find in different areas of Central and South America.
Large dialect areas of American Spanish.

Mexican Spanish

Mexican Spanish is often taught in schools in the U.S. and Canada, so it’s possible you’ve heard this dialect before. This dialect borrows words from American English and Nahuatl (Fun fact: the word “chocolate” comes from Nahuatl). When it comes to pronunciation, Mexican Spanish has a softer “s” than Castilian Spanish, but a longer or stronger “r.” However, Mexican Spanish has a clear enunciation for both consonants and vowels, which makes it the preferred variation to learn for many English speakers.

Caribbean Spanish

If you visit the Caribbean, you’ll notice that some Spanish words become shorter and the letter “r” sounds a lot like a “l.” Caribbean Spanish is spoken in Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico and has a unique sound to it. This dialect is a mix of Canarian Spanish, Andalusian Spanish, African tongues, and other indigenous languages like Taíno. You’ve probably heard this dialect if you enjoy listening to reggaeton!

Central American Spanish

While Central American Spanish is most common in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, you can also hear it in the Northern parts of Mexico. You can easily recognize this dialect by listening to the sound of the “s” at the end of words, which speakers tend to replace with a “h” sound. The past participle conjugation for Spanish verbs is simplified to drop the “-ado” and “-ido” normally used with this tense too. This dialect also uses voseo and incorporates borrowed words from local indigenous languages like Nahuatl.

Andean Spanish

Andean Spanish is spoken in countries that are part of the Andean Mountain range. This dialect is more common in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, but you can also hear it in the North of Argentina and Chile, and the South of Colombia. In this case, indigenous languages like Quechua or Aymara have influenced the Spanish spoken in this region. You’ll notice that the sound of the “s” is more strong and it’s easy to tell apart when Andean Spanish speakers are pronouncing “ll” or “y.”

Rioplatense Spanish

The Rioplatense Spanish dialect comes from the Río de La Plata region, which is part of both Argentina and Uruguay. Rioplatense was greatly influenced by Italian. Some common characteristics of this dialect are the pronunciation of “y” and “ll.” In Rioplatense Spanish, these letters are pronounced like a “sh.” And, of course, the use of the “vos” instead of “tu” is also an easy way to recognize this dialect.

Spanish Dialects Around the World

Spain has been very influential throughout its history and the same is true for the Spanish language. In the case of Equatorial Guinea and Gibraltar, they speak Spanish because of colonization and historical heritage. Let’s look at these unique Spanish dialects:

Equatoguinean Spanish

There are three official languages in Equatorial Guinea: Spanish, French, and Portuguese. As a result of European colonization, Equatorial Guinea acquired its own unique variation of Spanish. This dialect mixes Spanish with influences from French and Portuguese and also borrows words from native African languages like Fang and Bube. This dialect might be slightly more complicated because it combines the use of “usted” as a subject with “tú” conjugations. Equatorial Guinea is a small country, and many people don’t speak Spanish as a first language so this dialect isn’t very common.

Llanito Spanish (spoken in Gibraltar)

Llanito is a unique blend of Andalusian Spanish and British English spoken in the British territory of Gibraltar. This dialect involves code-switching from Spanish to English and borrows words from other languages like Portuguese, Hebrew, and Maltese. Llanito emerged as a result of the British colonization of the area, which had belonged to Spain for over 200 years after the Muslim occupation ended in 1462.

Even though many people in Gibraltar are bilingual in Spanish and English, Llanito isn’t as popular as it used to be. However, groups of people have created organizations to preserve this dialect.

How Did the Dialects of Spanish Develop?

The Spanish language has constantly changed throughout its history, but was first recognized as a language in the 13th century. It evolved from Vulgar Latin and originated in the Kingdom of Castille. As it reached the borders of the country, Spanish started to adapt and reflect the influence of the language spoken in neighboring territories. And, of course, war and social conflict in the country were important factors that caused other dialects (like Andalusian Spanish) to emerge.

On the other hand, the native people already had their own languages when Spanish conquerors introduced Spanish to Latin America in 1491. As part of the colonization efforts, Spanish was taught and officialized in most countries. But, because the use of original indigenous languages was so strong, different Spanish dialects started to develop. At the same time, geographical differences like mountains and rivers isolated communities, which caused them to develop their own linguistic variations. Now, people speak these dialects in their day-to-day and consider them an important characteristic of each country.

Which Dialect of Spanish is Best to Learn?

Which dialect of Spanish is best to learn depends on the reason why you’re studying the language. The goal of learning a language is to make communication possible, so it’s always better to choose the dialect of the country you want to visit or move to. But, if you’re learning Spanish for different reasons, you might want to choose a dialect that has many resources available. 

Keep in mind that some dialects are indeed easier to learn than others. For example, many people favor Castilian Spanish, Mexican Spanish, and Colombian Spanish when it comes to learning the language. If you’re learning Spanish to communicate with Spaniards, it makes sense to learn Castilian Spain, which is the official language of the country. But, if you will be visiting South America, Colombian Spanish has a nice balance between formality and informality that makes following language patterns easy.

How Should Dialects Influence Your Spanish Learning?

There are many Spanish dialects around the globe, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to communicate with Spanish speakers if you choose to learn Andalusian, Andean, or Llanito Spanish. This language is mutually intelligible across borders because the base we use to speak it is the same. Even when the pronunciation, slang, and grammar can vary, these changes are not enough to break the communication bridge between Spanish speakers.

This picture shows folkloric dancers of the Bolivian dance, "La Diablada."
Folkloric dancers performing the Bolivian dance, “La Diablada.”

If you’re just starting to learn Spanish, it’s not that necessary to focus on a specific dialect. What’s important is developing a strong base in the language, including verb conjugations, sentence structure, and common vocabulary. Most resources teach a fairly neutral version or group different dialects into broader categories like Castilian Spanish or Latin American Spanish.

When you reach a more advanced level in Spanish, you may wish to focus on a specific dialect. Learning a dialect is easier if you are in the place where it is spoken or if you have contact with speakers of that specific dialect. This way you can pick up unique words, phrases, and accents naturally. You can also use the Internet to find resources for a specific dialect including newspapers, content creators, and podcasts.

How to Learn a Specific Dialect

Luckily, there are many resources you can use to start learning Spanish, and some offer more than one variation. For example, if you want to develop your conversational skills quickly, there are Spanish apps that teach both Castilian and Latin American Spanish. If you want to learn the language through immersion, you can find Spanish courses that will teach you specific dialects with a variety of materials. 

There are also some other resources you can explore online for free. YouTube has thousands of channels created by Spanish speakers from all around the globe. You can watch their videos to explore different Spanish dialects and practice speaking. However, if you’d like the guidance of a native speaker who speaks the dialect you’re interested in, you can find tutors from many Spanish-speaking countries on italki. You can use italki to browse and find a teacher who speaks the dialect you’re interested in. With this online platform, you can take private lessons and develop whichever skills interest you the most.

Learn More Spanish with Langoly

Exploring the Spanish dialects can teach you a lot about the history, culture, and traditions of the language. And, learning a dialect isn’t hard! Once you know enough Spanish to be able to communicate, all you need to know is what are the variations that define the dialect. Being familiar with at least a couple of these dialects can improve your experience and help you blend in with other Spanish native speakers. Try different forms of Spanish and discover which one you like best, it might even lead you to your next travel destination! To learn more about the language, check out Langoly’s Spanish hub.

Maria Claudia Alvarado

Maria Alvarado is a content writer and translator from Lima, Peru. She graduated from the Savannah College of Arts and Design in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Writing. She is fluent in Spanish and English, has intermediate knowledge of French and German, and is learning Japanese. She hopes to bring consciousness about the importance of language learning through her articles and aspires to learn as many languages as possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with (*). Comments are moderated and may not publish immediately.

Have you tried this product? How would you rate it?