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Translating a word into Spanish is not always as clear as it should be. Spanish is spoken by 21 countries as an official language. It is to be expected that some words will vary from country to country. And do they!
Whether you are planning a road trip around South America or just enjoy learning new words in Spanish, this post is for you!
One of the most common questions I get from my students is “How do you say ______ in Spanish?”. Sometimes the answer is pretty straightforward. How do you say Hello? Hola. That’s it. But more often than not, an object or idea will have a different word depending on where you are in the world. The meaning is the same, but the name changes.
As a native speaker from Venezuela, I will usually translate words for my students the way I would say it. But if students have had previous exposure to other words, they are immediately confused when I don’t say the word they were trying to remember.
Why does Spanish change so much from country to country? Because each country had different influences throughout their history that introduced words from other languages such as Arabic, French and even English.
Too many words?
Now, you might think to yourself, do I need to learn all those words? Well, not necessarily. Most students have a favorite dialect or they want to visit a specific country. In this case, I always recommend that they focus on the dialect of said country. And they can forget about the rest for the time being.
A vocabulary travel guide
That being said, in this article, I will present you with a comprehensive guide of some of the most common objects that change their name geographically in Spanish. You can keep this list handy if you are an avid traveler, a language curious, friends with a lot of Spanish speakers or just a language lover.
Going to the movies in another country can be a fun experience. You will probably want to accompany the experience with a big tub of popcorn. But did you know there is nearly a completely different word for this snack depending on where you are? Check out the list below:
Argentina: pochoclo, tutuca
Canary Islands: cotufa
Colombia: crispetas or maíz pira
Cuba: rositas de maíz
Dominican Republic: cocaleca
México: palomitas de maíz
Panama: millo or popcorn
Puerto Rico: popcorn or poscon
Venezuela: cotufa or gallito.
You might want to remember this word if you are visiting a Spanish speaking country and are staying with friends, or a hotel or dorm. Here are the different ways to say bedroom or room across different Spanish speaking countries:
Venezuela: cuarto o habitación
Chile: Pieza o dormitorio
You would think a simple word like “faucet” would have just one word in Spanish, but in fact, this is one of the words that not only has a different name across the nations but they also differ greatly from one another:
Central America: Chorro (lit. stream of water)
Venezuela: Llave (which also mean key as in door key)
Colombia: Llave, canilla, caño.
Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico: Pila, Pluma.
Most common words in other countries: Grifo.
About to enjoy a refreshing drink and you need a straw? How would you ask for one in Spanish? Again, it depends! Pay attention to how different all these words are to name this one object:
Bolivia, Chile: Bombilla.
Dominican Republic: Calimete.
Central America: Pajilla
Argentina, Chile, Spanish and Uruguay: Pajita.
Venezuela, Colombia: Pitillo.
Argentina, Ecuador, Perú: Sorbete.
Puerto Rico: Sorbeto.
If you bring your own reusable straw you will not have to worry about remembering any of these words. Plus it’s much better for the environment!
A staple food in many South American countries, it comes as no surprise that different countries would have their own words for it.
Dominican Republic: Habichuelas.
Venezuela: Caraota, Frijol.
Colombia: Fríjol (notice the accent on the first syllable. It’s pronounced FRI-jol)
Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay: Poroto.
Spain: Judía, Alubia, Habichuela.
When in doubt, use “frijol” everywhere you go, and you will most likely be understood!
Another key word for getting around in a Spanish speaking country is the word for “bus”. And even though, you can usually get by using the word bus (pronounced ´boos´). There are still quite a few different words used across the map:
Venezuela: Autobús, buseta, bus.
Colombia: Buseta, bus.
Argentina: Colectivo, Bondi.
Mexico: Camión (note that the word ‘camión’ means truck in other countries)
Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico: Guagua.
Perú: Colectivos, Combis, Autobús.
Going shopping for some basics? If you are looking for a casual t-shirt, you might want to have the vocabulary to find this item when you are abroad. Keep in mind that the most common and understood word is camiseta.
However, here are some other common words for “t-shirt” in Spanish speaking countries:
Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, Honduras, Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua: Camiseta.
Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico: Franela.
Bolivia and Chile: Polera.
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay: Remera.
Panamá: Suéter (this can be quite confusing for most since suéter (eng. sweater) means a long sleeve shirt for colder days; however, in Panamá it refers to a t-shirt).
And there you have it! Seven words said multiple ways in multiple countries! This not only will help you get around wherever you are, but hopefully also shows you how rich and alive the Spanish language can be.
If it is your goal to remember these words, putting them into flashcards (virtual or physical ones) can be a great way to go about it! If you are going to one of the countries mentioned above, then create a set of flashcards specifically for the country you will be visiting.
Have you come across other objects or ideas with different names in Spanish, let us know in the comments!