It’s no surprise that Spanish, being the official or de facto language of 20 Countries and also having had a large diaspora of its speakers, has many regional differences. Learning about these differences can be beneficial to the Spanish learner, but at the same time too much attention can distract from more beneficial Spanish study.
Regionalisms are words or phrases that are used in a certain region, the region can be as big as a hemisphere or as small as a city or town. There are many famous regional phrases in Spanish. Some very common examples include “Choclo (corn)” in Argentina, “bacano” (cool) in Colombia, and guajalote (turkey) in Mexico. There are many, many regionalisms. With my wife and in-laws being Panamanian, I am most familiar with the words and phrases of Panama, of course. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to speak with people from many different countries and learn some of the speech unique to their regions. It is fascinating to learn about the lexical diversity within the Spanish language.
That being said, I don’t necessarily think that learning regionalisms is the best use of time for the Spanish learner (with the obvious exception of learning about the way of speaking in a region that you’ll be traveling to, or of a local community of speakers). When I was in an earlier phase of learning, I would try to memorize the different ways of saying things for different countries, and then I’d be talking to someone from Mexico looking for a work that I know how to say in Peru and the Dominican Republic, and would grind to a halt or have to explain to ask my Mexican friend how they say the said word. My strategy after realizing how futile this was was to focus on what I learn or feel to be standard or that I know from experience. Sometimes this doesn’t work out, like if I ask at a Mexican restaurant for a “carrizo” (drinking straw in Panama), the waiter may not understand and have to ask me to clarify, but I find not to be too great of an issue. The time spent learning regionalism could be spent practicing the subjunctive, reading about “buen uso”, or doing some other beneficial learning activity. I’m not saying that it can’t be beneficial at all, I’m just sayin that if you don’t have a trip to Paraguay planned, you may not need to know who to say “sandals” in Paraguay.
If you are interested in learning more regional expressions in Spanish there are a couple great resources.
- Spanishpod.com has a great podcast series called “Del Taco al Tango” where they speak to guests from all around the Spanish speaking world. The hosts and guests are lively and they deal with topics other than just language, such as food and culture. This is a paid subscription, but I found this product probably helped my progress more than anything outside of actually speaking.
- Pinterest has plenty of infographics floating around on different ways to say things in Spanish, if you just type “Spanish” into the search window, you’ll come up with plenty.
- Academias are great for learning “proper” regional Spanish. The most famous academia is the Academia Real Española, which dictates proper Spanish and “buen uso” throughout the Spanish speaking world, and in recent decades has been much more inclusive of “Americanismos”. Every Spanish speaking country has it’s own academia, including the United States, whose academy has the important role of being the federal government’s consultant on Spanish usage and style, which is a difficult task with the incredible amount of diversity in the origins of the Spanish speakers in the United States.