1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. Spanish Spanish vs. Latin Ame…


Spanish Spanish vs. Latin American Spanish

I would like to see a feature on Duolingo that tells us more about the differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken in Latin America within the exercises. I know that at the end of every lesson, we can take a look at the vocabulary list, and there we can see the vosotros vs. ustedes thing, for example, but I would actually like to see that incorporated in the exercises. One way could be to mark words in different colours if they are used in Latin America and not in Spain. It would also be cool if we, the learners, could actually choose if we want to study Latin American Spanish or Spanish Spanish. tl;dr: I once took two semesters of Spanish and my teacher was from Cuba, he taught us to use "ustedes" for the formal plural, but since I live in Europe, I should use "vosotros" instead when I speak Spanish, I think. There are probably more differences, I would just like Duolingo to tell me exactly where those differences are in a more visible / obvious way and let me choose whether I want to be taught both kinds of Spanish or just one.

January 12, 2013



The problem is that you use the flag of Spain for the Spanish course, which may lead to people incorrectly assuming that they are learning European Spanish. Especially when they see the flag of Brazil for Portuguese.

I would like the official course to be one particular dialect, but let the community write notes for differences between other forms of that language.


We discussed this at length internally. Unfortunately, there is no good flag to use that is universally recognized.


The European Union has this problem; their texts in German are meant for Germans and Austrians, and their texts is French are meant for France and Belgium, for example. So they decided to abandon flags when referring to languages. They use international abbreviations. So "PT" becomes "Portuguese" and there is no need for flags... Check the first page: http://europa.eu/ Of course I understand that flags are prettier... :)


We strongly prefer not to do this for multiple reasons. While it's true that there are regional differences, we try to teach a neutral Spanish that would be understood everywhere. It's also the case that basically all Spanish speakers understand each other even though they talk slightly differently (similar to what happens in English between the US and the UK).

Finally, making distinctions is a very slippery slope. There are close to 20 Spanish speaking countries in Latin America, so there is no such thing as "Latin American Spanish" -- and some of the country dialects are as different from each other as they are from the Spanish used in Spain. Should we teach 20 different dialects? That would be like an English teaching website that makes distinctions between English from the northeastern US, from the southern US, from the UK, from New Zealand, from Australia, etc.


I understand this, and many language courses aim for a 'standard' Spanish in a similar way.

How would you feel about someone creating a "Spanish Spanish" course in the incubator, but using DuoLingo's Spanish course as a template? (After all, probably 85% of the work is done should someone wish to create a version).


I think you make a great point and I agree with what you've done. For most verb and word ordering differences this isn't really a big problem. What I do worry about however is the Vosotros difference - I don't even know how that verb form is pronounced, so will I recognise it when I hear it? I think it's too big a difference to let it go by.

On a related but unrelated note, it isn't completely clear to me when to use the formal/informal of usted/tú, as we don't speak English in the same way. It's good that Duolingo teaches both forms, so I'm familiar with them, but it might be nice for questions to force us to reply informally/formally, so the difference is properly recognized and practised.


You should read the rest. See below: "Luis: All of this said, we are planning a skill in the Spanish tree with the "vosotros" conjugations."


I would say that Duolingo is teaching us not "neutral" but "standard" Spanish of news broadcasts and newspapers with a nod toward the Americas. Without broad accents or colliquialisms, I suppose they hope to ground us in Spanish that will be understood no matter the regional differences we encounter on the ground.


This is definitely an interesting topic, and I'm having trouble choosing a side. Luis, you make compelling arguments, but I wonder what "neutral" Spanish is. Does such a thing really exist? You'd have to exclude all words and expressions and syntax that varies across dialects, would you not? Why not stick with one dialect, possibly the one most widely spoken, or which people are most interested in learning? It seems that is what you have done with Portuguese. I'm Portuguese and I've concluded the Portuguese course, and I can say that the course is 100% Brazilian Portuguese, to the best of my recollection. As always, thanks for reaching out to the community.


Yes, for Portuguese we chose strictly Brazilian, since the number of speakers is about 20 times that of Portuguese from Portugal (and the demand is equally higher). In the case of Spanish there is no such clearly dominant dialect. If I had to pick one it would probably be the one from Mexico, which happens to be close to what we teach in Duolingo.

We didn't exclude all words and syntax that varies, but we chose the most common ones. I don't actually know how it is in Portuguese, but in Spanish we do have a pretty agreed-upon "neutral Spanish" that tries to minimize regional variations. It's very similar to the English you hear on TV most of the time in the US, which tries to remove the regional accents inside the country.


Ah, then it makes perfect sense. I only objected since I didn't know and thought difficult to imagine there was something like a neutral language across countries. There isn't one in Portuguese. In fact, Brazilians find it very difficult to understand us. We understand them fairly well, due to their more "open" and clear enunciation, and maybe because we get some exposure of things coming from there, like music, soap operas and movies, etc.


Hi Luis! I have a question for you, if you please! When you say "for Portuguese we chose strictly Brazilian", do you mean you're not going to point out any differences in the material/lessons you create, or you'd actually like to keep it 100% "clean" of European Portuguese altogether, to make sure learners don't mix up both dialects?

In other words, if I get an answer wrong because of a difference of dialects, should I choose the option "My answer should be accepted"?


Long time since this was last discussed, but Tiago's suggestion would be very useful. I have no immediate plans to visit Brazil (much as I'd love to sometime); I'm learning Portuguese for use in Portugal. Some means of understanding what adjustments to make would help me to be understood without being laughed at.

If there's a reluctance to provide some guidance on the differences between PT-BR and PT-PT, perhaps a Portugal Portuguese course is needed?


There's no such thing for Portuguese across countries, but there's kind of something like a "neutral" standard across Brazilian regions/states, like your example of US TV.


When I started learning Spanish, it was the Spanish of Spain (well, the language of the "dominant" Spanish dialect) complete with vosotros, different pronunciation, etc. But since I use Spanish only in Mexico and parts of South America, I have mostly forgotten the vosotros form - I can recognize it and translate it but not use it. But then, though I learned to speak English in England, I no longer call the trunk of my car the boot - though I recognized the latter's meaning when I come across it. My point is that I, for one, am not bothered by the way translations in Duolingo sometimes use forms of Spanish I'm not used to - it's all learning, and it's the language itself that interests me. In fact I was pleasantly surprised (and a bit shocked - who knew!) to come across the "os" form a couple of years ago for the first time - used by a taxi driver in Calgary, Canada, of all places.


My wife (Venezuelan by birth with a Colombian mother) and I traveled to Spain a couple of years ago and she had no problem understanding Spanish (Castellano) and they had no problem understanding her. If you become fluent in any of the versions you can quickly pick up on any differences. It is not at all like learning a new language. And as far as that goes, there are five languages native to Spain (Castellano, Ladinho, Gallego, Catalan, Basque).


No, you should not teach 20 different dialects. The example you mentioned, the English language, is actually a very good one. When I learned English at school, our teacher was always very careful to let us learn British English. Then we had another teacher for a year who taught us American English. In the years after that, we always mixed up American and British English and got confused over different pronunciations and spelling. I can only imagine that it must be similar for Spanish, I still only know the very basics of this language. I would rather learn one dialect correctly instead of learning a mix of different dialects, though. What you mean by "neutral Spanish" is not really clear to me, I guess at some point one has to decide for either using the European Spanish word/spelling/pronunciation or a Latin American one. I just think it would be nice to be able to see if there are different options for saying something in Spanish (e.g. the whole vosotros / ustedes issue) and where in the world those options are used. That is just my opinion, though, and I thank you very much for your reply, Luis =)


I myself am from a Latin American country and I am not sure what "Latin American Spanish" is. "Vosotros" is used in Spain for "you plural", and "Ustedes" mostly outside of Spain. But that's not the only pronoun difference. Argentina (and nearby regions) use "vos" for the second person singular (as opposed to "tú"), which changes the conjugation of every verb, making this Spanish about as different from the Spanish spoken in Colombia as it is from the one spoken in Spain. Cubans consider "¿Cómo tú estas?" correct, whereas in most other countries this sounds pretty bad (it would be "¿Cómo estas tú?")

Our hesitation is that if we start pointing out the differences, it would be a never-ending confusing cycle, especially for beginners. If there really were just two types of Spanish (Spain versus Latin America as you say), pointing out the differences would be easier, but I just don't even know what Latin American Spanish is...


I am sorry if the headline I chose is confusing/wrong, but I got that idea when I went through the "Present Tense Verb Endings" list on the skill I was just learning. There, it says "you (plural Latin America)" for "ustedes" and "you (plural Spain)" for "vosotros". I did not know that the differences between the Spanish spoken in different Latin American countries was so big.


I am glad you point this out, because you make us think about it. Some of the decisions in the site were not made with much thought :) My response was partly a justification to myself for why we don't mention the differences very much.

All of this said, we are planning a skill in the Spanish tree with the "vosotros" conjugations.


Vosotros is 'informal second person you plural' and ustedes is 'formal you plural'. Spanish speakers outside of Spain only use the 'ustedes' form for both formal and informal you plural. Spain does use "ustedes" but only for formal. I guess you knew that, but by some of the posts, it seems some users are confused. They think vosotros is replaced by ustedes in Spain.


In Spanish is used "ustedes" as formal, yeah. But, it's very little used. It's only used when there is a situation of very very very verh very respect. For example for to speak with old people.

I am Spanish native


When you do that, please make it a "leaf" branch and not a skill that is required to move forward down the tree. As a person trying to learn to speak "Mexican Spanish" that would just add unnecessary confusion. Thanks for your consideration.


As your post is 5 months old: has this skill been cancelled?


That is good to know! Thanks again for your replies.

Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.