It takes about two minutes after arriving in Argentina to notice that Argentine Spanish is distinct from Iberian Spanish and the U.S. ‘food truck Spanish’ of those who only took remedial Spanish in school.
At first, it sounds like bastardized Italian and it differs considerably from the Spanish spoken in other countries of Latin America, mostly because of the accent, the use of ‘voseo’ and differing vocabulary.
Argentine Spanish’s Italian Intonation
Argentina’s unique Spanish is due to the massive waves of immigration to the country from the mid 19th and until the mid 20thcentury. The majority of Argentina’s immigrants were Italian, and their influence is easily noted in the sing-songy modulation of Argentine Spanish.
The Italian influence on the language in Argentina is most evident in the Rio Plate region, with their emphatic and animated manner of speaking, along with the lingo (including the local slang called lunfardo) peppered with Italian words.
Thanks to those immigrants, Argentina’s Spanish has also absorbed words from Italian — one example is Argentina’s common farewell of ‘chau,’ – it’s is just an alternate spelling of ‘ciao.’
Why they call it ‘Castellano,’ not Spanish
Argentines typically refer to their language, not as Spanish, but ‘Castellano’ (pronounced ‘Castesh/ʃ/ano’). Castilian, as it’s called in English, refers specifically to the dialect from the Castilla territory of Spain, spoken by most Spaniards. The word ‘Castellano’ is essentially synonymous with Spanish, but referring to it specifically as ‘Castellano’ is done to delineate it from other languages also spoken on the Iberian Peninsula, such as Basque, Galician and Catalan.
A google search for ‘Argentine Spanish’ brings up results such as the article, ‘Why You Shouldn’t Learn Spanish in Argentina.’ Despite the fact that the author shares the surname ‘Kirchner’ with two prior Argentine presidents and the current vice president, the author argues that Argentina is a bad place to learn Spanish.
While it is matter of personal preference and personality, we at Wander Argentina disagree.
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Why You Should Learn Spanish in Argentina
While learning the unique, rapid-paced Argentine Castellano might present more of a challenge initially, in the end, learning Argentine Spanish gives you an edge. If you can understand Argentine Spanish, you can understand any Spanish.
An added bonus to learning Spanish in Argentina is that — despite the Argentines somewhat unfavorable reputation among other South Americans — native Spanish speakers from other countries secretly admit they love the Argentine accent — they think its sexy.
Of course, if you learn Spanish as an adult you will probably have a non-native accent regardless of where you study (unless you’re Dustin Walsh, the ‘Yankee Argentino’). But after gaining fluency in Argentina it can be fun to speak with native Spanish speakers from other countries, who will have no problem understanding you, but may be inquisitive about your unique ‘gringo-Argentino’ accent.
Speaking Argentine-style Spanish with those from other places is an immediate conversation starter!
Voseo vs Tuteo
Those who have studied Spanish in other countries will be thrown for a loop when they get to Argentina and are repeatedly confronted with the question, “¿De donde sos vos?”
Argentines use voseo, instead of the tuteo for the informal second person singular. This is one of the most unique aspects of Argentine Spanish. Why they got to be so weird?🤷 When the Spanish came to Argentina in the 15thcentury, ‘vos’ was still in use in Spain. Argentina, being at ‘the end of the world,’ was isolated until the 19thcentury, so the ‘vos’ form stuck, as the language evolved elsewhere.
Everywhere in Latin America where ‘vos’ is still used are regions that were somewhat secluded through the last few centuries, but to the majority of Spanish speakers, the ‘vos’ form sounds archaic.
Today most of Argentina (as well as in Uruguay, and some pockets of Paraguay and Central America) use the ‘vos’ form in everyday speech, as opposed to ‘tú’ for the second person informal.
The exception is in some outlying Northwest Provinces of Argentina and areas dominated by immigrants from other countries of Latin America who grew up using the ‘tú’ form.
Using ‘Usted’ in Argentina
In Argentina the formal ‘you’ — ‘usted’ is used much less than in other countries, such as Colombia or Costa Rica. The general rule in Argentina is that the ‘Usted’ form is reserved for superiors (at work, for example), authority figures or elders — otherwise use ‘vos’.
Good News! The Vos form is Easy!
The good news is that using ‘vos’ is simple. Only the verbs ‘ser,’ ‘haber and ‘ir’ are irregular in the vos form and the conjugation for the last two are the same as when using, ‘Tú.’
The verb ‘ser’ is the most irregular *sounding* conjugation: it’s ‘vos sos’ in the ‘vos’ form, instead of ‘tú estás.’
The conjugation for ‘vos’ is simple, especially for anyone who learned the plural informal ‘you,’ ‘vosotros’ form of Iberian Spanish in school. The conjugation for ‘vos’ is similar to vosotros (which it is useful to think about as, ‘vos+otros’). The only difference is that there is no diphthong (double vowel sound) used in the conjugation of ‘vos.’
So, using ‘vosotros’ conjugation as a guide, the informal plural, ‘vosotros sois’ becomes ‘vos sos’ and ‘vosotros habláis’ becomes ‘vos hablás’ in the second personal singular.
For regular verbs simply remove the letter ‘i’ in the ending and you’re good to go.
Those who never learned the ‘vosotros’ form can just follow a simple rule for the present tense conjugation of ‘vos:’ Drop the ‘r’, add an ‘s’ and throw an accent on the last syllable (-ás, -és, -ís).
Conjugation of verbs in the present tense – tú, vos, usted comparison:
⇒ Argentine Spanish: A Guide to Speaking Like an Argentine: The Complete Lessons.
Note that the conjugation for ‘Vos’ is only different from ‘Tú’ in the present indicative form and the positive imperative form.
After a few weeks of immersion study, language learners be happy to use the ‘vos’ form – there are a lot less irregular verbs to memorize (as opposed to ‘tú’) and using ‘vos’ gives you added street cred.
The imperative (command) form of ‘vos’ has no irregulars, with the exception or the verb ‘ir.’
Check out some of the common verbs which are irregular in the ‘tú’ imperative form but not irregular (and quite simple to conjugate) in the ‘vos’ form below.
Imperative conjugation ‘Tú’ vs ‘Vos’:
The verb ‘ir’ (to go) is a special case both in the present indicative form and the positive imperative form – using the ‘vos’ form, the verb ‘andar’ is used instead of ‘ir.’ So, in the present tense, instead of saying, ‘tú vas,’ in Argentina, one would say: ‘vos andas.’
In the imperative form of ‘ir,’ instead of saying (tu)‘vete’ to command someone ‘to go,’ (vos) ‘andáte’ is used.
The negative imperative form for ‘ir’ is the same in the ‘vos’ form — ‘no te vayas’ (don’t go) is the same whether ‘tú’ or ‘vos’ is used.
Using Pronouns with Voseo
‘Vos’ is also used as a personal pronoun. Instead of saying, ‘Voy contigo el sábado’ utilizing ‘vos’ you’d say, ‘Voy con vos el sábado.’
Instead of saying, ‘Esto es para ti’ (tú), in Argentina you’d say, ‘Esto es para vos’ (vos).
‘Tu’ is still used as a possessive pronoun utilizing the vos form though: ‘¿Vos me prestás tu auto? (Are you going to lend me your car?) Orations such as, ‘El libro es tuyo‘ (The book is yours), or, ‘La casa es tuya‘ (The house is yours), are also constructed the same using vos.
Sexy Argentine Pronunciation
Another particularity of Argentine Spanish, and why it has its ‘sexy’ reputation is that ‘y’ and ‘ll’ are pronounced ‘shh,’ or ‘Zh’ (depending on the area). So ‘yo’ sounds like ‘sho,’ ‘calle’ sounds like ‘kayshe,’ and ‘te llamo cuando llego’ sounds like, ‘te shamo cuando shego.’ The difference isn’t too hard to understand after a couple of weeks.
Unique vocabulary of Argentina
As noted in our article about Argentismos, the word ‘che’ is unique to Argentina and used frequently to draw someone’s attention.
And while in Spain ‘vale’ is used to mean ‘okay,’ in Argentina the word ‘dale’ is used instead. ‘¿Viste?’ (you know?) is a filler word used frequently (especially among young women) at the end of sentences. Another common filler phrase is ‘¿Qué sé yo?’ (what do I know?). Once in a while ‘yo qué sé’ (I have no idea), as it would said in Spain, is also heard.
It’s important to know that the verb ‘coger’ (which is frequently misspelled as ‘cojer’ in Argentina) is not used in Argentina as it is in Spain, where it means ‘to get/ to grab/ to take/ to catch.’
If you misuse ‘coger’ in Argentina, you will hopefully amuse — and not offend — someone, depending on who you are addressing.
‘Coger’ is considered a vulgar word in Argentina and is used exclusively to refer to having sex (specifically ‘to f*ck’). This is definitely something to be aware of before telling your new teacher, ‘Paso a tu sala a cogerte a las 7:00 p.m.’
Instead of ‘coger’ the verbs ‘tomar’ or ‘agarrar’ are used (unless you are actually talking about getting it on!).
Verb Tenses most Used in Argentina
The past participle form of verbs — ‘yo he ido’ or ‘el ha tomado’ — are rarely used in Argentina. Instead of saying, ‘El ha ido a Europa doz veces,’ an Argentine would say, ‘El fue a Europa dos veces.”
The simple future tense is also rarely used, except in writing. Instead the immediate future tense is used. This means sentences are constructed with the subject (yo/vos/ el/ ellos) +ir+a+ infinitive verb. So you with you will hear phrases such as, ‘Voy a tomar el colectivo’ instead of ‘Tomaré el colectivo.’
Being able to not worry about a couple of verb tenses for a while is just another benefit to learning Argentine Spanish.
Lunfardo – the expansive slang of Argentina
Last but not least is lunfardo, Argentina’s expansive slang, which is a language all onto its own with thousands of vocabulary words.
Wander over to Wander Argentina.com to learn more about the history of Lunfardo and some common phrases.
Vocabulary: Words that Differ in Argentina
|Stadium||Campo de Futbol||Cancha/Estadio|
Food Vocabulary Differences in Argentina
|English food term||Regular Spanish||Argentine Castellaño|
|Potato||Patata||Papa (used in most of America)|
Using Hand Gestures Like an Argentina
Not a vocabulary or intonation difference, but Argentines speak with their hands a lot and use a lot of different gestures.
Mimicking others and using ‘sign language’ with your hands can be a good tool in the early stages of learning a language, especially to make up for gaps in vocabulary. Those who learn Argentinean Spanish may find themselves naturally gesticulating more than in their native language, if they mimic their passionate, hand-waving hosts. Doing so also helps those who are patiently trying to figure out what you are trying to say. Think of it as a constant game of Pictionary and it becomes much more fun.
If you want to be a rebel and take the courageous ‘road less traveled’ to learn Argentine Spanish, check out Online Resources for Learning Argentine Spanish and Spanish schools in Buenos Aires.
Ifan Richards says
It has been most enjoyable reading this website
tiro meu chapéu (el sombrero) para os colaboradores.
I am from Wales( País de Gales) and have visited Argentina when Wales played Rugby there, including a visit to Trelew in Patagonia
Um país muito bonita/hermosa
Gwlad hyfryd iawn Welsh
Iechyd da – Boa saúde – Félix