A few weeks ago, I ran into a Spanish speaker from Argentina at one of my Spanish meetups. I immediately noticed his accent, and how different it is from every other Spanish dialect. In this guest post by James Granahan of Lingua Materna, you will learn how Argentine Spanish differs from other dialects, and even learn some slang used in the country’s capital city of Buenos Aires.
I firmly believe that having strong motivation is a key part of language learning. And if you’re anything like me, one of your biggest motivators is probably the culture of the language you’re learning.
Argentina is one of the most culturally rich Spanish-speaking countries you’ll find. Whether you’re looking for world-class literature (check out Borges and Cortázar), music (Soda Stereo, Charly and Spinetta), or you’re entranced by the seductive movements of tango, Argentina has a little bit of everything. And we haven’t even mentioned soccer yet!
The only difficulty for learners who want to explore Argentine culture is that Spanish in Argentina is quite different from other dialects. If you’re not used to it can be difficult to understand. I remember when I first arrived in Buenos Aires, I was totally lost!
But don’t worry. It’s not as strange as it seems once you get used to it. In this post, we’re going to look at some of the most common characteristics of the Argentine dialect so you can get your head around it quickly and start enjoying the wealth of Argentine culture.
1) The ‘ll’ sound
One of the first things you’ll notice when you hear an Argentinean speak is the way they pronounce the letter ‘ll’.
If you’ve learned Spanish in Spain or Mexico, you’ll be used to the traditional pronunciation of ‘ll’. In those dialects, it sounds the the ‘y’ in the English word ‘yellow’. So, me llamo James (My name is James) would sound like ‘me yamo James’.
In Argentina, it’s different. Argentine’s pronounce the ‘ll’ as a ‘sh’ sound, which means that our example me llamo James will sound like ‘me shamo James’.
It can be quite confusing at first if you’re not used to it. Simple sentences that you thought you understand can sound totally different with this porteño pronunciation.
You’ve probably heard of Che Guevara. He’s the famous guerrilla from the Cuban Revolution whose face you see plastered on t-shirts and spray painted on walls all over the world.
You probably thought Guevara was from Cuba, right? I used to think so too! But actually, ‘Che’ Guevara was born under the name Ernesto Guevara in Rosario, Argentina.
As a young man Guevara became a Marxist and left Argentina to fight in the Cuban Revolution. As you might imagine, his accent stood out in Cuba and his comrades quickly gave him the nickname El Che because he constantly used the word che when he spoke.
I’m sure you’re thinking: “So what does che mean?”. If only it were that easy! Che doesn’t really mean anything in particular. It’s an interjection that has a lot of different meanings. It can be used to mean something like ‘yo’ or ‘bro’ in American English or even be used the way we use words like ‘so’, ‘right’, ‘like’ or ‘eh’. Here are some examples to give you a better idea:
Che, vamos a tomar algo?
Que rico la pizza, che!
It can take some time to get used to but in Argentina this little word is everywhere. Everybody uses it all the time.
One of the most difficult aspects of Argentine Spanish that foreigners have to get used to is the voseo form.
What this basically means is that Argentines don’t use tú like in other Spanish speaking countries. Instead, tú is replaced with vos, which has it’s own unique conjugation.
This means you don’t say ¿y tú?, ¿but y vos?
Let’s look at some of the most common verbs and how their conjugations change when you use the voseo form.
Tú eres → vos sos
Tú puedes → vos podés
Tú tienes → vos tenés
Now let’s see this in context:
¿Vos sos argentino, no?
¿Vos podés hablar alemán?
Tenés que reiniciar la compu si no anda bien.
In this recording you’ll hear the sentence first in the traditional tú form, followed by its equivalent in the voseo form.
4) Porteño Slang
In Argentine Spanish porteño is the word used to describe a person (or anything else) that comes from Buenos Aires. Why? Because the city has historically been a very important port city for trade between South America and Europe. So port is the origin of the word porteño.
Buenos Aires has a fascinating history of immigration which has not just shaped the city itself but also the way in which its inhabitants use their language.
The immigrants coming into the city in the 1800’s have impacted the language by leaving countless slang words of Italian and German origin. Here’s a quick list of just some of my favorite Argentine slang words to give you an idea:
- Boludo – a negative word used to describe a stupid or foolish person.
Donald Trump es un boludo.
- Chabón – guy, man, dude
¿Qué hacés chabón?
- Castellano – the word Argentineans use instead of español. Pronounced with a good strong porteño ‘sh’
¿Usted habla castellano?
- Embole – used to describe something that’s tedious or boring
Es un embole.
- Fiaca – used to describe feeling tired or drowsy
- Pileta – a swimming pool. It’s often shortened to pile
¡Me a voy a meter en la pile porque hace un calor hoy!
- Frutilla – a strawberry. In most countries its fresa but Argentines say frutilla.
El postre es frutilla con crema.
Here’s how these phrases might sound:
Argentine Spanish is – like most dialects – full of slang. If you want to learn more, you can read my post about the top 10 Argentine slang words you need to know or check out this brilliant slang dictionary by Porteño Spanish.
So there you have you it! You now know the basic characteristics of Argentine Spanish.
How does it differ from the dialect(s) you’re most familiar with?
Learn Spanish the Way It's Really Spoken!
Get your nose out of textbooks and start speaking Spanish!
Join 2,802 other aspiring bilinguals that are learning to speak Spanish with real people.
We'll send our best advice and resources for how to learn conversational Spanish, PLUS giveaways of the best resources for learning Spanish directly to your inbox.
James is a language acquisition expert and mindset-oriented learner.
He is passionate about online business, travel and languages.