I’ve been asked the following question on Facebook:
What does Mexican Spanish sound like to a Spaniard, provided it is spoken by an educated speaker not using any Mexican idioms?
It’s an interesting question I think many other people might be asking themselves as well, so I’ll talk a bit about the subject.
The average Spaniard and Latino America
First of all, we have to talk about what the average Spaniard thinks about Latino America in general. In the last years, Spain has become a very tolerant country regarding race, homosexuality (top 1), etc. (which is one of the few things we are good at right now).
People here don’t have any problem with blacks, Latinos, etc., as long as they don’t cause any disturbance. However, many Spaniards think of Latinos as people talking and writing an empoverished version of Spanish. Among the many reasons for this, the two main ones are:
- people tend to reject what’s different from what they know or are used to;
- the really bad orthography Latinos tend to display on the Internet (Yahoo answers, forums, memes, etc.)
Also, what 99% of Spaniards know about American Spanish is whatever they have seen in telenovelas (or culebrones [literally ‘big snakes’, because they never end], as we also say in Spain), which are known for their low-quality, repetitive scripts.
Last, but not least, the Latinos that have been coming to Spain to make a living are, in general, people without an education, working low-quality jobs with low salaries, etc., so many people look at them with a patronizing smile.
To sum up, the average Spaniard doesn’t think much of Latinos and their varieties of Spanish. Even though Spaniards respect them (“respect” meaning whether considering them equals or just acceptable, that is, that they shouldn’t be marginalized, etc.), they will always be sudacas, a derogatory adjective that’s just an abbreviation of sudamericano. The more native American they look, the more sudaca they are, especially Bolivians, Peruvians, etc.; most Argentinians would be spared. Hopefully, this feeling will be eradicated within the next generations.
It’s Castilian Spanish vs. American Spanish
For the average Spaniard, the main varieties are Spanish Spanish (≈ Castilian), Argentinian and the rest of American Spanish (= Mexican).
People in Spain tend to be quite “language-racist”. For example, in some parts of Andalusia and in the Canary Islands, there are a few features much more similar to those of American accents: no difference between ‹z› /θ/ (as in “think”) and ‹s› /s/, no vosotros pronoun (nor 2nd person plural verb forms), no use of pretérito perfecto compuesto (e.g. he amado vs. pretérito perfecto simple amé), etc. The rest of Spaniards tend to make fun of these features and some even state that Andalusians can’t speak properly.
This cliché is so widespread that in TV shows, movies, etc., Andalusians are nannies, maids, bartenders, etc., and are always telling jokes and doing nothing. Canarians are just ignored.
But, after all, Andalusians share their vocabulary with the rest of Spain, so just imagine the image the average Spaniard has about American Spanish; Latinos not only speak (and write) even worse than Andalusians, but also use different words such as carro instead of coche, etc. Argentinian might sound sexy, but the rest will be looked down on.
Some students try to learn a fictional neutral Spanish so that what they learn is valid for every Spanish-speaking country. But, I’m sorry to say, there’s no such thing.
Unless people are using very colloquial words and expressions specific to one country, all native speakers will understand one another without problems, although they will instantly know that person isn’t from their country (mainly because of their musicality and vocabulary). Anyway, real-life speech is full of colloquialisms, idioms, etc., so you can’t possibly speak more than 2 minutes without stepping out of “neutral Spanish”.
I don’t think anyone is actually happy with “neutral Spanish”, except for Mexicans, since “neutral Spanish” translations and dubbing are made in their country, so most of the times neutral Spanish equals Mexican Spanish, and even the rest of American countries are opposed to it.
For example, a few years ago, when it was announced that Halo 2 was going to be published in “neutral Spanish” even in Spain, there was a huge campaign against it, and here you have proof of what people think about “neutral Spanish”:
So, should you choose Spanish from Spain or from Mexico/America?
Although the final decision is obviously yours, I think you should bear the following things in mind, in this order:
- Where / with whom will you be speaking Spanish?
- Spain represents only 10% of native Spanish speakers (you do the math).
- Which one do you like the most?
So the most immediate answer would be… Let’s learn American Spanish, which is what 90% of them speak! Normally you would have chosen well, but, even so, if you are coming to Spain (to live, to work, to whatever), you should learn Castilian Spanish.
If you aren’t coming to Spain nor Latin America, ask yourself what you want Spanish for:
- To watch telenovelas? Then, learn American Spanish.
- To watch movies by Almodóvar? Then, learn Castilian Spanish.
- To read books in Spanish? Then, it shouldn’t matter, since written Spanish tends to be quite homogeneous.
- To read Internet content in Spanish? Then, learn Castilian Spanish, since (even though 90% of native Spanish speakers are American) the best content is usually written by Spaniards (Americans being just consumers); anyway, the previous point also applies a little here.
- To talk to your boyfriend/girlfriend who is from…? Then, learn his/her variety.
Doesn’t any of the above apply to you? Then I’d go by this rule:
- You live in Europe or Western Asia: learn Castilian Spanish.
- You live in America or Eastern Asia: learn American Spanish.
Just because you are more likely to visit/go to the respective country.
Any more questions? Just ask!