I studied Spanish, formally, for 9 years. Around my 6th year of study, I did an intensive immersion program in Mendoza, Argentina and a year after I graduated, I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where I lived for nearly two years. After all that, you’d think I’d be the first person to tell you that Argentina is the place to go to learn Spanish. Unfortunately, Argentina does not get my vote.
Sure, studying and living in Argentina was highly beneficial to my Spanish speaking skills. Spending a prolonged period of time in any Spanish speaking country is bound to do some good. However, I had the advantage of having a strong academic background in Spanish before I went to Argentina.
During my time in there, I watched countless friends try to learn Spanish from scratch and I noticed so many things that did not quite match up with my formal education.
1. The accent is not what you’d expect.
Chances are, you’ve heard native Spanish speakers in movies and music, or perhaps even interacted with a native speaker in person. You might think you are prepared for what you consider a “Spanish-speaking accent.” The problem is, there is no single Spanish-speaking accent because there are way too many countries that speak Spanish. The types of accents English speakers are generally exposed to are often limited to Mexican, Spanish (from Spain), Puerto Rican, and Cuban.
The Argentine accent is an entirely different beast. Argentina has a heavy Italian influence, so many Argentines speak with the sing-song rhythm that Italians use. They also pronounce their “ll” as “sh” instead of the “y” sound you are taught in school.
2. Argentines aren’t as quick to compliment your Spanish or encourage
you as other Latinos are.
If you go to Mexico and know how to order a beer in Spanish, the waiters will praise you. In many Latin countries, they are so flattered that you have even attempted to learn their language that they will applaud any effort you make. They will also be extra patient with you as you stumble your way through asking for directions. You won’t be so lucky with Argentines.
If you’re in a larger city in Argentina, they might get impatient with you. If they speak English, they will immediately switch to English because they do not want to waste their time with your sub-par Spanish. They also take great pride in their accent and pronunciation rules, so if you use the rules you learned in school, they’ll either correct you or insist they cannot understand you. It can be very confusing and discouraging for beginners.
3. You’ve never heard the slang before.
Argentines have so much slang. While slang is bound to happen in any Spanish speaking country, Argentina really has a pretty incredible amount of it. Of course, the quantity is not really the issue so much as the unfamiliarity. Again, you may have been exposed to slang from places like Mexico or Puerto Rico through movies and music, but not a lot of Argentine slang makes it all the way to the North America or Europe.
I moved to Argentina as a fluent Spanish speaker, but even I found myself lost when in large groups of 20-somethings all spouting off slang terms and idioms I’d never heard before.
4. They use the “vos” form, which you have probably never heard of.
Instead of using the “tú” form you learned in school, Argentines favor the “vos” form, which doesn’t exist in most textbooks. The “tú” form is still understood, but you won’t hear many Argentines using it. You’ll have to learn this extra verb form of you’ll be completely lost in most casual situations.
I love Argentina and I would recommend the country to anyone. It’s a great place to visit and even live, but it still does not top my list of best places to learn Spanish. My Spanish is so heavily Argentine that when I do interpretation work or even just speak with my Puerto Rican boyfriend I have to “turn off” my accent and focus on using more neutral vocabulary. So if you’re choosing a country based on it’s educational benefits — I’d cross Argentina off your list.