Speaking Spanish in Argentina
I spent 9 years formally studying Spanish in middle school, high school, and then University. It prepared me fairly well for real-life Spanish, but not quite so well for speaking Spanish in Argentina! Hopefully this article will help you speak and understand Argentina Spanish.
If you are traveling to Argentina, chances are you are at least a little bit concerned about being able to communicate with locals. If you have a couple years or more of Spanish under your belt, you may very well get by just fine, but there are some differences between Argentine Spanish and the Spanish you learn in school.
It is a common misconception that Spanish is the same everywhere. Consider this – do you think someone from Brooklyn, New York would understand everything someone from Belfast, Ireland said or vice versa? Not likely. Spanish, just like English, varies in each country. Even experienced Spanish speakers or some natives struggle with Argentine Spanish at first. However, once you get the hang of the key differences, it’s easy enough to adapt.
Pronouncing the “ll”
Spanish textbooks teach you that two ‘l’s together are pronounced with a ‘y’ sound. For example, “Me llamo,” which means, “my name is” would be pronounced, “May YA-mo.” This is true in almost any Spanish speaking country. Unfortunately, Argentina is not one of them. That same phrase, in Argentina, would be pronounced, “May SHYA-mo.” In Argentina, the double L is actually pronounced with more of a “sh” sound, with a tiny hint of the ‘y’ sound. Some speakers may even omit the ‘y’ sound altogether, making the phrase, “may SHA-mo.”
For students of the Spanish language, this can be rather confusing. Textbook Spanish teaches you that”¿Cómo te llamas?” means, “what is your name?” and it is pronounced, “CO-mo tay YA-mas.” The correct answer to that question would be “Yo me llamo _____” and would be pronounced “YO may YA-mo.” However, in Argentina, that same question would sound more like “CO-mo tay SHYA-mas” and the answer would be “SHYO may SHYA-mo _____.” It may seem like a subtle difference, but when you are speaking a different language, small changes such as this pronunciation can be quite confusing.
Using the “vos” form
Once again, your textbooks have not properly prepared you for speaking Spanish in Argentina. In your Spanish classes, you most certainly learned that the “tú” form is used for “you” in familiar settings, such as with friends. While Argentines will have no problem understanding “tú” or any of the accompanying conjugations, you will rarely hear a native Argentine using it. Instead, they say “vos.”
The good news is the “vos” form only exists in present tense and commands. In all other verb tenses, you would simply put “vos” in front of the “tú” conjugation.
Present Tense “Vos”
Conjugating “vos” in the present tense is surprisingly easy. You simply take the verb, remove the ‘r’ from the end, replace it with a ‘s’ and put an accent on the final syllable.
Hablar – to talk
Caminar - To walk
Not so bad, right? There are only two tricky present tense verbs in the “vos” form: “ir,” which means, “to go,” and “ser” which means, “to be.” There is no way to conjugate “ir” in the “vos” form, so Argentines use the synonym, “andar.” The conjugation is simply “vos andás.” For ser, the conjugation is irregular, “vos sos,” which means “you are.”
Commands in “Vos”
If you didn’t make it past your Spanish 1 class, you probably have never even heard of commands. I know it sounds rude, but any time you tell someone to do something in Spanish, even if you are adding a very polite “please,” you have to use a command form.
“Tú” commands are riddled with irregular verbs and exceptions to rules. It is rather annoying and complicated. Luckily, “vos” commands are much simpler. To form a command in “vos,” you just have to remove the ‘r’ from the end of a verb and put an accent on the final letter. Observe:
Escribir – to write
Vos – escribí
Comer - to eat
Vos – comé
Here’s a look at several irregular “tú” commands that are perfectly regular in the “vos” form.
Tener – to have
Tú – ten
Vos – tené
Venir – to come
Tú – Ven
Vos – Vení
Poner – to put
Tú – pon
Vos – Poné
Decir - to say
Tú – di
Vos – decí
Once again, the verb “ir” simply does not work in the vos form, so the synonym, “andar” is used, with the vos command being “andá.”
Understanding is more important than speaking perfectly
No one expects you to master Spanish, much less a country-specific version of it, overnight. Argentines are generally patient and will be accustomed to mistakes or textbook-style Spanish that they rarely use. It is much more important to understand these differences than it is to use them. Argentines won’t have trouble understanding your textbook-style Spanish, but they may not think twice about using these Argentine-isms. Just be prepared to hear these differences and don’t let them trip you up too much.