Which Central / South Amercian country speaks the clearest form of Spanish?
November 10, 2006 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to attend an immersive language school -- but would like to learn to speak a relatively region- and dialect-free form. I recently heard a Bolivian Spanish speaker on the radio-- and his Spanish was beautiful. It's possible this is an entirely STUPID question I'm asking-- as any language may sound like mush coming from the mouths of dolts. But-- I tend not to be attacted the sound / clarity / speed of Mexican Spanish or the pronunciation used in Spain. ANY SUGGESTIONS? ALSO-- there are specific language schools in Central / South America would recommend? THANK YOU!
posted by iam2bz2p to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any specific recommendations, but as someone who learned Spanish in Spain, I agree with your assessment that Northern Andean Spanish has a beautiful, clear sound.
posted by footnote at 12:32 PM on November 10, 2006

You're asking about the mythical Neutral Spanish. Keep in mind that Spanish dialects also vary a lot within a country. So that Bolivian speaker may not be speaking Bolivian as it is spoken, say, by Bolivian news anchors.

I know that the Western Mexican Spanish I speak (though also influenced by my Spain-Spanish professors in college) is different than that spoken in say Mexico city.

Think of New Orleans drawl, Boston accents, California surfer drawl and the accent of Southern gentility all being called "American English" and you'll see the problem here.

You could say: "Ok, but what about news anchors? Maybe I should speak like them" Thats fine but then you risk sounding like a robot.

All that said, the general view is that Mexican Spanish is one of the flattest and clearest, South American spanish is a bit more musical though and thus prettier to the ear. I'm not a fan of the sibilant Iberian Spanish but as always, opinions vary.
posted by vacapinta at 12:39 PM on November 10, 2006

I learned Spanish in Guatemala, which has some of the best and least expensive schools in the world. Not sure how Guatemalan Spanish compares though.
posted by lunasol at 12:48 PM on November 10, 2006

A few things:

How long are you planning on spending in this immersion school and how/where will you use the Spanish you learn? "Neutral" spoken Spanish doesn't really exist anywhere, so you're going to have to just make some choices about which direction you want to lean and then modify it later if you want to try to sound more like a Chilean/Colombian/whatever. Plus, not to be a downer, but are you just starting out? I think you're going to have to learn quite a bit of Spanish before this matters.

It's also worth pointing out that, while I know what you mean when you say "the pronunication used in Spain," the pronunciation there isn't uniform. And that's true not just in Spain, but in other countries as well. You're going to have an accent. The most you can hope for is that it isn't identifiable 1.6km away as a gringo accent.

I can tell you I would not recommend Argentine Spanish for anything approximating a neutral version of the language.

In short, if Bolivian Spanish sounds good to you, why not Bolivia? I have no specific school recommendations but have been told it's inexpensive.

On preview: much of what vacapinta said.
posted by veggieboy at 12:52 PM on November 10, 2006

Seconding Guatemala

I'm cuban and I'd be better off telling you where not to go. Most countries have their own accents, words, etc. and that's just part of the nature of the beast. I've heard in Guatamala, spanish is spoken slower and with more emphasis on announciation, which is a great help to someone learning.

What's wrong with having a specific accent? It gives you some flare and most speakers will recognize the area you are from.
posted by eleongonzales at 1:01 PM on November 10, 2006

I'd recommend considering Peru. The Spanish spoken here is very clean and similar to Bolivian, but Lima is a lot nicer than La Paz to live in and it's a good spot for traveling.

You can check out the South American Explorer's Club. They offer reviews of different Spanish language courses. http://www.samexplo.org/
posted by limagringo at 1:17 PM on November 10, 2006

I did a month-long immersion at the Arenal campus of the Adventure Education Center in Costa Rica, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. They provided excellent teachers, a great tour guide, and a wonderful homestay during my time there.

I've heard it said that the Costa Rican accent has a pretty neutral (Latin American) sound. Some of the accent things I've heard other Latin American Spanish speakers do, like dropping the 's' at the end of a syllable (for example, este comes out sounding something like ehte) and pronouncing ll with a whisper-y ssssh noise didn't happen there. I feel like I picked up a pretty standard accent while I was there. Of course, it's likely that my teachers were doing their best to speak as neutrally as possible so as to avoid passing along any idiosyncratic accent stuff.

Also, I'm a beginning speaker, so I'm sure to anyone who actually speaks the language I sound like an American trying to speak Spanish, not someone who learned Spanish specifically in Costa Rica.

And of course, no matter where you go you'll learn different slang words, maje.
posted by jesourie at 1:20 PM on November 10, 2006

In short, if Bolivian Spanish sounds good to you, why not Bolivia?

I second this. You know what you like, so why are you trying to find the mythical neutral Spanish?
posted by smackfu at 1:23 PM on November 10, 2006

Response by poster: "In short, if Bolivian Spanish sounds good to you, why not Bolivia?"

Seems obvious enough-- but I posted my question in hopes of locating a country where Spanish is, as one poster nicely said-- "spoken slower and with more emphasis on announciation"-- THIS is more what I'm looking for-- not a "neutral" form of Spanish.

posted by iam2bz2p at 1:38 PM on November 10, 2006

I'll second Costa Rica. I have trouble understanding Mexican and Spanish accents, but the Costa Rican accent was very precisely enunciated. Easy to understand, pleasant to listen to. Everyone seemed to speak more slowly than in Spain, too, but maybe that was just that they were used to dealing with American tourists day in day out.
posted by hippugeek at 1:57 PM on November 10, 2006

Best answer: Everyone has their favorite, but I have heard Colombian Spanish described as pleasant to listen to. Whether studying there is a good idea is another matter -- I don't know.

This link mentions Colombian Spanish in that context and is amusing in other respects.
posted by veggieboy at 2:03 PM on November 10, 2006

Mexico news-broadcaster type Spanish is usually the flattest and best enunciated. Obviously once you get on the streets there may be some regional dialect, but educated people in Mexico City have VERY unambiguous pronunciation.

Spoken slower? That's hardly a function of nationality or even municipality, is it?
posted by ernie at 2:03 PM on November 10, 2006

Actually any of the countries mentioned here - with large cities should be ok. You just must realize that many of these countries have large indigenous populations where Spanish might be a second language after their native tongue whose affects would be downright bizarre coming from a beginner.

IMHO just avoid Castilian (Spain type lispy thing they try to copy on the BBC) Spanish, so this rules out Argentina. Avoid Islands like Puerto Rico or Cuba. But mostly the clarity will be in direct relation to the snobbiness education level of the speaker.
posted by ernie at 2:19 PM on November 10, 2006

My wife agrees that Bolivian spanish is pretty damn close to "neutral"

It's a good place to learn Spanish according to her, because Bolivians speak slowly, compared to other places. An no, it's not a stupid question at all. She said there was a really good school in Cochabamba, but can't recall the name.

(I am from Bolivia, btw)
posted by O9scar at 3:09 PM on November 10, 2006

Best answer: I'm a native Spanish speaker, and I lived almost three years in Guatemala, I would most definitely vote against Guatemalan Spanish. It has a thick accent and a more complex grammar, with a heavy influence of the local indigenous languages (and I'm not saying that's bad, it's just not what you are after.)

If it's any indication, some production companies try to get Colombians to dub TV series into Spanish, apparently they consider that is a neutral Spanish, and it is definitely one of the most polite forms of it. I'd say Colombia. And the people are friendly, beautiful, and the music and the food is fantastic. What else could you ask for?
posted by micayetoca at 6:42 PM on November 10, 2006

Costa Rica has beautiful Spanish, but they use a tense not often used in other Latin American countries...The collective plural vosotros isnt used as much in other countries, so if you learn it, you'll definitely stand out.

That said, I love listening to Columbian spanish, but I don't think I've heard Bolivian.
posted by griffey at 8:32 PM on November 10, 2006

It also makes a difference what you want to do with your Spanish. If you're aiming to get an internship at the EU headquarters, you actually would want to learn Castillian Spanish (my second language, and proud of it thanks; even then, you're gonna have to choose between Andalucian, Madrid Spanish, and a host of other regional variations). If your future is in South America or in dealing with Spanish speakers in the USA, then I think you're on the right track if you listen to the advice given above.
posted by msittig at 9:16 PM on November 10, 2006

Best answer: The Northern S. American Countries tend to speak an older purer form of Castillian - the spanish language. Columbian Spanish is recognised by many as being the purest, finest pronounced Spanish spoken today. One of the habits is to open the mouth more when speaking, thus pronouncing the individual words more clearly. Modern day "peninsular" Spaniiards tend to speak faster and with a slightly closed mouth making it harder for a learner to understand. In Spain there are also many regional dialects or languages, Catalan, Gallego, Andaluz etc.
posted by adamvasco at 6:59 AM on November 11, 2006

Costa Rica does use a non-standard tense with some regularity, but it's not vosotros; the third person plural is always ustedes.

The second person singular () will sometimes be replaced with vos, a process known as voseo. It's actually pretty common in Latin America, particularly in El Salvador.

But in Costa Rica (at least in the part in which I studied) vos is always reserved for very intimate aquaintances, and unless you fall madly in love with someone the day you set foot in the country, you're unlikely to develop the kind of intimacy with someone that's required for the use of vos while you're studying there.

Otherwise Costa Rica is generally very formal, using usted almost with everyone--I heard it between husbands and wives frequently, even parents and children. is used very rarely, so much so that I have a hard time remembering to use it when I'm talking with my Spanish-speaking friends because I didn't use it at all when I was there.
posted by jesourie at 10:00 AM on November 11, 2006

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