Differences between Spanish Speaking Culture


By Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine

The Spanish language is one of the most important languages in the world.  It is currently spoken by over 500 million people as either a first or a second language.  Nevertheless, most people think of Spanish as a monolith.  They believe that the language is uniform and spoken the same way everywhere. However, the countries where Spanish is spoken are actually quite diverse in both language and culture.  If one is to do business in these countries, these differences must be taken into consideration.  Understanding them will both reduce misunderstanding and promote respect with your Hispanic counterparts.

The main misconception is the view that there is only one Spanish language and that it is the same everywhere.  There are actually several Spanish languages.  Since the fall of Rome in 476 AD, the Latin language which was spoken in what is now Spain began to differentiate along local lines.  Eventually, one dialect, Castellano or Castilian, became the dominant language.  According to the current Spanish Constitution, Castilian is the official language of Spain; however the other dialects are still protected languages.  The two most commonly known dialects in Spain are Catalan and Galician.  Catalan is spoken in the province of Catalonia, bordering France.  Meanwhile, Galician is dominant in the province of Galicia, situated to the north of Portugal.

Due to the proximity of their neighboring countries, Galician is similar to Portuguese while Catalan is closer to French.  There is also the Spanish diaspora dialect called Ladino.  This dialect is sometimes referred to as Judeo-Spanish as it is primarily spoken by Sephardic Jews.  In 1492, the Spanish monarchy decided to expel all non-Christians from Spain.  Consequently, large numbers of Spanish speaking Jews left Spain for other countries.  Although the people have been separated from Spain for over 500 years, the language that they spoke still survives and is spoken by at least 150,000 people in Israel, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, and Latin America.

The diversity from Spain has also impacted Latin America to a great extent.  The Spanish language both unites and divides Latin America.  While the basis of the language is more or less the same, there are certain expressions, words, and accents which differentiate the populations that speak Spanish.  The usage of the second person singular informal is used differently across Latin America and is one of the major differences in how the language is spoken.  The “tuteo” or usage of the pronoun “tu” for this form is predominant in Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Venezuela.  For most of the rest of Latin America, the “voseo” or “vos” pronoun is employed.  The “voseo” is a remnant of the Latin language as “vos” is the second person plural form in Latin. However, in Modern Spanish, it is usually a singular form.  Primarily, “vos” is used in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.  Interestingly, Ladino also employs “vos”.  It is important to point out that in the Central American countries and Chile, “tu” and “vos” are both employed interchangeably whereas in Argentina, Eastern Bolivia, and Paraguay, only “vos” is used.  If one wishes to do business in any of these countries, these aspects of language must be taken into account and recognized so that improper Spanish usage is avoided.  Being familiar with the proper usage in your country of business will greatly impress your counterparts and demonstrate that you took the time to learn their way.

Another major difference in Spanish classification is how the language is referred to in various countries.  Most English speakers recognize “español” as the way that Spanish speakers refer to their language.  Nevertheless, in many countries this label is not employed.  The term “español” is employed in Mexico, the majority of Central American countries, and Colombia.  In the South American countries, “castellano” is mainly used when referring to the Spanish language.

It is important to note that Argentine Spanish is especially distinct.  Argentines refer to their language as “castellano del Río de la Plata”, which is the region around Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital.  Of all the versions of Spanish in Latin America, Argentine Spanish is singled out for its distinct accent and for its usage of a different vocabulary which is sometimes compared to Italian.  This phenomenon is not surprising due to large-scale immigration from Europe to Argentina in the last century.

The Spanish language is one of the most useful in the world.  The countries in which it is spoken represent one of the most promising and profitable opportunities for entrepreneurs today.  Nevertheless, if you want to do business in the Spanish speaking world you must first recognize the diversity of the language and then prepare yourself accordingly if you are to succeed there.

As a graduate of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine, Founder, CEO, and President of MasterWord Services, Inc., started her company with a vision of seamlessly connecting people across any language, any time, and any culture.  Mila can be reached by email at mgolovine@masterword.com, by phone at 281-589-0810, or visit her website at www.masterword.com.


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