Castilian vs Canarian Spanish Differences
A guide to the ‘canarismos’ of the Spanish Canary Islands
By Hollie Mantle
Just as in any country in the world, Spain is split into different regions, each with their own idiosyncratic dialect or accent.
For those studying Spanish, this can be one of the tricky points. Although people will understand your well-rehearsed Castilian Spanish, they might not respond in ways you expect them to.
The Canary Islands are no different and come with their own unique set of words, grammar structures and pronunciation that isn’t used on Spain’s mainland. We’ve put together a short guide on how to tweak your Spanish to sound like a Canary Island native if you’re joining us for a holiday or as an expat:
One of the first things you will notice about Canary Island Spanish is that instead of using ‘vosotros’ for the plural ‘you’, you’ll mostly hear the word ‘ustedes’. This is true for all islands of the Canaries, excluding La Gomera and La Palma. So if you want to fit in, make sure you make this slight adjustment when speaking to island natives.
Secondly, whereas Castilian Spanish speakers generally pronounce words with the letter c or z as a th sound, those living on the Canaries pronounce this sound as s, more like their counterparts in Latin America (incidentally, the shared dialect between the Canary Islands and Latin America is due to the fact that when colonising, the Canary Islanders settled in Latin America and brought their distinctive tongue with them). Try pronouncing the difference in words such as ‘cenar’ and ‘zapatos’. ‘Thenar’ becomes ‘senar’ and ‘thapatos’ becomes ‘sapatos’. Simple!
In terms of grammar, those living on the Canary Islands have a tendency to use the preterit tense where the Spanish mainlanders would employ the perfect. So none of that ‘hoy he estudiado español’! The Spanish speakers on the Canaries also omit the possessive ‘de’ in phrases such as ‘Casa de Belen’, in favour of simply ‘Casa Belen’.
As if to make it just that extra bit more difficult for you, Canarian Spanish has a whole host of words that are specific to the islands. Luckily a few of these you should be able to pick up immediately. Due to the influx of English-speaking expats and tourists, native speakers on the island have picked up a few recognisable Anglicanisms. Take, for example, the word “quinegua”, which is used for potato, and comes from the English word ‘King Edward’, whose seeds were imported to the island. You’ll also hear more everyday words like ‘naife’ used for ‘knife’.
Some, however, are not so recognisable and come from more exotic influences in Latin America and Portugal. The word ‘guagua’ for ‘bus’, for example, is one you’ll have to learn by rote. Here are a few extras to employ in your conversation to wow the locals with:
Canarian word glossary
Mojo = this is a sauce from the Canarias which is usually put on top of roasted potatoes
Jalar = to pull, to attract oneself
Fisco or fisquito = a small amount or little bit
Duranzo = peach
Fos = when you smell something terrible
Chacho = to express surprise (it’s a shortened form of Muchacho)
Mago = poor people (very derogatory)
Frangollo = a dessert similar to crème caramel
Manejar = to drive (a car)
Se te fue el baifo = you’ve lost your mind/you’re confused
Millo = corn
Tenis = trainers, sports shoes
Chachi = good, nice e.g su padre es chachi! Your father is really nice!
Machango = joker
Arrojar = to vomit
Rasca = drunkenness
Want to know more?
To get a really immersive experience it’s probably better to steer clear of the bigger cities where, even when you initiate conversation in Spanish, locals will generally respond in perfect English. Our comprehensive courses on the island of Fuerteventura cover all levels, ages and abilities.
Fuerteventura is a fantastic, paradisiacal island; especially if you’re a keen water sports fan or enjoy relaxing days by the beach. Areas like Caleta de Fuste offer great diving schools, beaches and restaurants, or if you want to see some of the natural side of this most historic canary island, visit one of the three national parks. Corralejo’s Parque Natural de las Dunas is a protected area of outstanding natural beauty, and is right next to Corralejo’s fabulous white-sand beach.