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Differences between Canarian and Castilian Spanish

Just like any other country, individual regions in Spain each have their own idiosyncratic dialects, full of words, phrases and grammatical constructions that may make the regular non-native Castilian speaker think ‘what on earth….?’

Spain’s Canary Islands are no exception to this rule. For those thinking of studying or living in Tenerife, La Gomera, Fuerteventura or one of the other idyllic, sunny spots – picking up a few of the ‘Canarismos’ can help you start off on the right foot when speaking Spanish to the natives.

la gomera photo

Here are a few of the main differences in Canarian Spanish to get you started:

First up, Canarians have a few distinctive words in their vocabulary. Where these words come from varies; some words are from Latin America, some Portugal and some the UK. Just as emigrants from the Canary Islands settled in Latin America and brought over their version of Spanish, so the Latin American influence is strong in the language of the Canaries today, with words like ‘guagua’ (which means bus). Throw a few of these Canarian-specific words into your everyday Spanish conversation and you’ll have the locals well and truly convinced:

Machango: joker, cotufas: popcorn, rasca: drunkenness, tennis: sports shoes, trabas: hairpins, chacho: to express surprise (a shortened form of muchacho), chachi = good or nice, fisco or fisquito = a small amount or little bit.

You’ll notice that Canarian speakers employ some Anglicisms which aren’t used elsewhere on the mainland or in Latin America. This is thanks to (or the fault of) English speaking expats who have fled the dreary skies of their homelands and settled on the sunnier, Canarian shores. One example is the word “quinegua” which is used for potatoes and comes from the English word “King Edward”. Another if ‘naife’ which is the English word ‘knife’ pronounced with a little more Spanish flair.

Secondly, pronunciation on the Canary Island varies in some prominent ways from Castilian Spanish. Castilian speakers generally pronounce words with the letter ‘c’ or letter ‘z’ with a ‘th’ sound, such as in words like ‘zapatos’. Canarian speakers, however, pronounce these letters with an ‘s’, such as in ‘cenar’ which, in the Canary Islands, is pronounced ‘senar’. The letter ‘j’ as in ‘jose’ is also generally pronounced with a soft ‘h’ sound as in ‘horse’. This is very similar to the pronunciation of their Latin American counterparts.

There are also grammar differences in Canarian Spanish. Generally Castilian speakers use ‘de’ to indicate possession, such as in ‘casa de Jose’ or ‘Hotel de Maria’. On the Canary Islands, you’ll see signs which omit the ‘de’ so it reads simply ‘casa Jose’. Some verbs may also be used in a different sense than what you are used to if you have already learned Castilian Spanish. For example, in the phrase “¡Que tienen suerte!” the verb changes to become “¡Que hayan suerte!” The preterit is generally employed on the Canary Islands to describe the past, even the recent past, whereas in Castilian Spanish they would employ the perfect tense. So to say ‘I have travelled to America’ (recently), they would say “Ya viajé a los Estados Unidos”.

Finally, Canarian speakers will generally avoid ‘vosotros’ for the plural ‘you’ and use ‘ustedes’ in almost all situations (except in La Gomera and La Palma).

The accent: The deje of Canarian Spanish is much softer and more sensual than Castilian Spanish, and is favoured by those on the mainland, meaning if you master it you’ll have Castilian speakers going weak at the knees.

Studying in the Canary Islands

The benefits of island-based study generally include cheaper priced schools and also a relaxed, beach lifestyle. The downsides, however, can be that the strong tourism industry means most natives speak English and are reluctant to converse with you in their native tongue. If you’re planning to move to the Canaries, however, then it’s probably best to study here so you can get used to the accent; Canary Islanders do have a tendency to run words together and it may take a while to get used to.

la gomera photo

La Gomera is one of the most beautiful and unvisited of the islands, and has a few good quality language schools. I.D.E.A Language School comes highly recommended, and is situated in La Calera, from where you can see fantastic views of the sea and the banana plantations. You can’t reach La Gomera directly by air, however, but you can find more information on getting there safely here (it usually involves a boat from Tenerife).

Another less-touristy option is the Fuerteventura Spanish School, which offers 20 small-group classes for 195 euros per week. The school is in Puerto Del Rosario, and quite close to Caleta de Fuste which is a fantastic watersports location with great beaches and restaurants (more details on things to do in the area can be found here).

If you’re on a budget, Gran Canaria is your best bet; the higher number of language schools in Las Palmas means that prices are brought down by competition.

Studied in the Canary Islands before? Where did you go? Let us know below!

Photo by cortto

Photo by Thomas Tolkien


  1. Very interesting post, I thought south america was unique with so many accents, but spain just came to my list too.

    • Hi Diego, yes Spain is full of different accents and dialects like these:
      Aragonese (aragonés)
      Asturian (asturianu, bable)
      Leonese (llionés)
      Extremaduran (estremeñu)
      Cantabrian (cántabru, montañés)
      Basque (euskara)
      Catalan (català)
      Valencian (valencià)
      Galician (galego)
      Aranese (aranés)

      Saludos, Laura

  2. Very good , thank you

  3. Really interesting post, for many people from out of Spain its difficult to understand, same happens with other dialects. Thanks.


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