If “parce”, “bacano”, and “quiubo” resonate in your mind, you might have heard Colombian Spanish. If not, then you’re about to find out what these words mean, and more!
Colombia is a vibrant and diverse country with mesmerizing places to visit and enjoy, and the country with the most Spanish speakers, after Mexico. Colombia also has a fairly clear and easy Spanish accent to learn and understand but, being a multicultural country, it also has a large variety of regional dialects and accents.
While this may seem intimidating for a Spanish learner, learning about these dialects’ grammar, phonetics, and culture from Trufluency’s Colombian Spanish guide will help you to ace them! Some Colombian accents may indeed be more difficult to understand than others, but we can assure you that it’s worthwhile learning if you are going to travel (or settle) in the country for just a few weeks or – why not – permanently? So, let’s start your guide to Columbian Spanish!
Colombian Spanish Grammar
The use of Spanish pronouns Usted, Tú, and Vos
Colombians use the pronouns usted, tú, and vos in a very particular way. Regardless of the formality and depending on the region they live in, Colombians will speak directly to a person using any of these pronouns depending on the region they live in.
Usted (what the majority prefer to use)
Spanish speakers from the Andean region of Colombia -the largest of the country- use usted all the time to address the second person singular. Colombians use usted regardless of the situations of formality and closeness they have to people. While visiting Colombia’s Andean region you’ll hear people call usted to their friends, spouses, parents, children, pets, coworkers, bosses, and pretty much everyone. And if you’re a stranger to them, they’ll still use usted with you.
This has nothing to do with whether they are being formal or informal in their conversation, it’s simply their preference. As a matter of fact, it’s so common that it’s probably the only word you’ll hear for “you” there. In this sense, there’s no point in switching over to tú because you’re more comfortable with someone, as it happens with Spanish in the rest of the world.
Tú (what Costeños prefer to say)
The tuteo – or the use of tú to address someone in the singular form as the general rule – is common in the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. People from La Costa (how Colombians call the Coast) will use tú with a very high frequency.
However, Costeños do follow the Spanish rule of using usted when the context is formal or unfamiliar. So, if you are not close to them, they’ll address you with usted until you create a bond with each other.
Vos (the favorite pronoun of Southwest Colombia)
Colombians from the regions Paisa and Valle del Cauca and, overall, from the Southwest of the country, use vos instead of tú and usted. This is called voseo and lies somewhere between informal and formal speech. Many countries in Latin America use it. Some examples are Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, etcetera. Keep in mind that vos is considered a bit less formal than usted yet a bit more formal than tú. You can check the vos conjugation here.
How does the Colombian accent sound?
In Colombia, you’ll hear different accents. Colombia is divided into six natural regions; Andean, Caribbean, Pacific, Orinoco, Amazon, and Insular. Each region contains many linguistic quirks as well as slang. We’ll explain the Standard Colombian Spanish accent and then we’ll make a distinction on the regional particularities.
Just like other Latin American Spanish variants, Colombians pronounce C before E and I like an S. This widely common pronunciation is called seseo. Therefore, the following pair of words sound the same in Colombian Spanish: cocer / coser and abrazar / abrasar.
The act of Spanish speakers pronouncing both the LL and Y with the same Y sound is called yeísmo. Most Colombians DO NOT have it. They make a perfect distinction between the LL and the Y. Thus, they distinguish the LL sound from a regular Y sound. Non-yeísmo speakers from Colombia make a hard “Je” sound when pronouncing LL and a soft “ye” sound when pronouncing Y. Therefore, most Colombians will make a noticeable difference between cayó (fell) and calló (he shut up).
But, why does this matter? Because it’ll help you spell words in a better way. You won’t only spell more easily in Colombia but also in parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru. Nevertheless, there has indeed been a recent tendency toward using yeísmo among the youngest population of the capital city, Bogotá.
In the Andean region of Colombia, people aspire the letter K before all vowels [kʰ]. Therefore, the way people pronounce K in Colombia is the same as we do in English, in the posterior part of the mouth. You can see an anatomic representation of this pronunciation here.
Pronunciation of J
The pronunciation of J can be pharyngeal (pronounced with the pharynx) or glottal (pronounced with the glottis). Phonetics represents these sounds with the symbols ⟨ħ⟩ and [h], respectively. On the one hand, the pharyngeal J is articulated with the tongue root against the back of the throat. On the other hand, the glottal J is articulated as an aspiration in the English word “ham”.
A regional accent worth the mention is the one of Nariño, where they pronounce J as a velar sound. In other words, with the back of the tongue (the dorsum) at the soft palate.
Pronunciation of N
The N is alveolar in most of the country. However, in the Caribbean region of Colombia (where costeños are from), people pronounce the N as NG.
Pronunciation of S
In the Región Caribe and Los Llanos of Colombia, the pronunciation of the S is aspired. This rule is valid for an S between two vowels or at the end of words. You can hear this S sound in the rest of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries, Chile, Argentina, and South Spain. For example, beso and somos.
However, in places like Bogotá, Altiplano Cundiboyacense, Valle del Cauca, Región Paisa, and Santander the S aspiration between vowels is perceived as informal. However, the final S is always clear (not aspired). For example, nosotras and necesitas.
In some places of the Paisa region and Altiplano Cundiboyacense, and the Andean zone of Nariño, the S is apical. Simply put, this means that people pronounce it with the tip of the tongue, either behind the front teeth or against the alveoli. Thus, this sounds reminds us of an SH sound.
In the rest of the country, the S is pronounced as a Spanish Z when it’s between two vowels or at the beginning of words. For example: Ay, ¡eso sí jamás!
Pronunciation of RR and R
The RR and R sounds are the same as in Standard Spanish. Nevertheless, in Nariño and Altiplano Cundiboyacense, people “drag” the R and make it almost a Z. This happens when the R is in the middle as well as at the end of the word. This process is called asibilation (yes, with a B), and consists of the transformation of a non-sibilant sound into a sibilant. The asibilated R sounds like something between an S and a Z. For example: “Comer para mi es un placer.” (KOMEHS PASA MI ES OON PLAHCES).
On the other hand, Costeños pronounce the Rs in the final syllables as an L. Hence, sal and alcalde sound like “sar” and “arcarde”. When the L is in letter groups LD, LG, and LM, transform it into a D. Therefore, falda and espalda become “fadda” and “espadda”.
Final deletion of D
Colombian Spanish speakers often delete the final D of words, however, it is an uneducated way of speech. Example: verdá instead of verdad.
Notice that when the D’s are in words conjugated in progressive tenses (English -ing form) they are carefully pronounced as they would normally be. For example: Estaba durmiendo (I was sleeping), Estoy caminando (I am walking).
Colombian Spanish has the same vowels as Standard Spanish, two closed vowels (I and U), two mid vowels (E, O), and an open vowel (A). However, in the different regions of the country, these vowels may be longer, shorter, or include some brief stops without affecting the words’ meaning. Please notice that the pronunciation below comes from a transcription using the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which you can review here.
|Standard Spanish (Spain)||Standard Spanish (IPA)||Bogota Spanish||Paisa Spanish||Coastal Columbian Spanish|
|lento||ˈlento||ˈlen̪t̪ʊ / ˈlen̪t̪||ˈlẽ̞n̪t̪o||ˈlento|
|leopardo||leoˈparðo||lɪoˈpärðʊ||leoˈpärðo||leoˈpardo / leoˈpado|
|almacén||almaˈθen||almɐˈsɛn / almɐˈzɛn||almaˈs̺en||almaˈseŋ|
|estable||esˈtaβle||esˈt̪äβlɪ / esˈt̪äβl/td>||esˈt̪äβle||ehˈtable|
|Bogotá||boɣoˈta||boɣoˈt̪a / boɣʊˈt̪ä||boɡoˈt̪ä||bogoˈtä|
Time to Practice
Copying the accent of a specific Latin American country, like Colombia, can be a cake if you use the proper techniques. The differences between Usted, Tú, and Vos are the easiest part of learning Colombian Spanish. Indeed, what may cause you a headache is the different Spanish pronunciations Colombians show depending on their place of origin.
But, don’t worry, while not everyone can afford an immersion trip to this country, there’s no helpful resource you can’t find on the web. Do you know the best way to use one’s dubious reputation? To profit from it! And Colombians have built an entertainment empire with that in mind. Therefore, there are hundreds of TV series, movies, and telenovelas that you can find on YouTube, Netflix, and CaracolTV.
We promise you that the exciting storylines will hook you on, and you’ll quickly grasp the accents and colloquialisms. If during or after that you have learning insecurities – which are normal and part of the process – feel free to reach out to us.
The Risk is that you want to stay!
Let us know why you want to learn Colombian Spanish and your personal objectives for this goal. We’ll be more than pleased to help you reach a native level in Latin American Spanish, and we can coach you to have a Colombian Spanish accent as well.
A few years ago, there was a series of TV commercials where foreigners explained how they had found life opportunities in Colombia. Their slogan was El riesgo es que te quieras quedar (The risk is that you want to stay).
In the same way, if you take lessons with us, you’ll see your language journey with different eyes. Try a month with one of our Spanish tutors and save 20% with code TF20!