Buenos Aires, Casa Rosa
South America, Study Abroad

Learning Spanish in Argentina: The Rioplatense Dialect

I took my first Spanish class in 7th grade. I then continued to take Spanish in college, and even minored in Spanish.

While I don’t speak it as well as I probably should, I can say that I’ve had a lot of teachers who’ve employed variety of teaching styles. One thing they had in common? The tendency to tell their students not to learn Spanish in Argentina.

Weird, right? What do they have against Argentina? What do they have against learning Spanish in Argentina?

After spending 4 weeks in Buenos Aires, I kind of understand where my teachers were coming from. Whatever the hell they were speaking, it was NOT Spanish (because clearly, I’m an expert).

Looking for a day trip from Buenos Aires? Check out Colonia, Uruguay!


Before I go any further, I would like to clarify that the dialect I am writing about is known as Rioplatense. It primarily found in the areas surrounding the Rio de la Plata, which includes Buenos Aires. There are other accents found across the provinces of Argentina, but many make the mistake of calling Rioplatense “the Argentine accent”. To do this would be a great disservice to both my readers, and the people of Argentina. This country is home to a rich linguistic history that should not be disregarded. While I do not know much about the dialects outside of the Rio de la Plata area, I recommend you do some research… and let me know what you find out!


The Rioplatense Accent

The Rioplatense accent was really hard to understand. At first, I had no idea what the heck they were saying. Yet, whenever I mentioned it to other South Americans, they always said the same thing: “Argentines sing”.

In a way, they did, and it was beautiful.

In another way, I hated it and they need to stop.

My first interaction with this dialect was on the plane from D.C. to Buenos Aires. When the stewardess asked if I wanted the “po-sho”, I just said yes out of embarrassment. I had no idea what I just ordered. Then—because it was airline food—I still couldn’t tell what it was once I got it.

The first thing you need to know is how they pronounce the letters ll and y. Instead of the “y” sound that they usually make (as in yellow), it turns into the “sh” sound (as in shell).

For example, they drink a lot of yerba mate. That’s going to be pronounced “sh-erba”. Need to ask your landlord for the keys (las llaves)? You won’t be asking for “ya-ves”, but “sha-ves”. For obvious reasons—like my own general incompetence—it took me a very long time to understand people. Whenever someone asked me to meet them in the “ca-she”, I just never saw them again.

Another change to note is that the “z” sound is avoided in Rioplatense. Instead, it is replaced with the “s” sound (i.e. “zapato” becomes “sa-pato”).

Buenos Aires Skyline

Learning El Voseo

Remember all that time you spent memorizing regular and irregular conjugations? Well, I hate to break it to you, but…

The first time someone asked me, “¿De dónde sos?”, I had no idea what was happening and just pretended I understood absolutely no Spanish.

The first time someone said “¿Y vos?” to me, I panicked and thought they were using vosotros (which I never learned because ALL MY TEACHERS SAID I WOULDN’T NEED IT).

The first time someone asked “¿Cuántos años tenés?…” I honestly didn’t notice the difference and replied “Tengo veintidós años” — like someone who’s memorized exactly how to answer that question.

So, it turns out in Rioplatense, the second-person singular pronoun has been cast away in favor of vos, the use of which is known as el voseo. Never fear! It’s not too hard to learn. Using vos, the verbs are only conjugated differently in the present indicative (Presente Indicativo) and affirmative imperative (Imperativo Affirmativo).

El Voseo en el Presente Indicativo

To use vos in the present indicative tense, simply drop the “r” from the infinitive, replace it with an “s”, and stress the final syllable. For example, comer becomes comés, and cantar becomes cantás.

The only exception — because there’s always an exception — is ser, which becomes sos.

El Voseo en el Imperativo Affirmativo

To use the affirmative imperative, simply drop the “r” from the infinitive, and add an accent over the last vowel. For example, comer becomes comé, and cantar becomes cantá.

The exception here is ir, which becomes andá.

Church in Buenos Aires

Must-know Vocabulary to Survive Buenos Aires

Dale: “Okay” — used similarly to “vale” in Spain.

Che: This seems to mean everything and nothing. It can refer to a “friend” or “pal”, and also acts as an exclamation of understanding, meaning “right” or “yes”.

Laburo: “job or work”. Can be used instead of “trabajo”. The same goes for the verbs “laburar” and “trabajar”.

Mango: Slang for money.

Plata: Literally means “silver”, but is also slang for money.

Colectivo: the bus. It can also be referred to as “el bondi”.

Boliche: “Nightclub”

Boludo: A derogatory word meaning “idiot” or “stupid”. It is also commonly used in an affectionate manner among close friends. I do not recommend trying it out on acquaintances. 

Birome: “Pen”. As far as I can tell, this is actually a brand. Much like how Kleenex became synonymous for tissue in the United States.

Frutillas: “Strawberries”

Medialunas: “Croissants”. A common breakfast item

Manteca: “Butter”

Porteños: Used to refer to the people of Buenos Aires. Quite literally meaning “the people who live by the port”.

Hopefully this article will be of some help to anyone currently struggling with their Spanish in the Buenos Aires area. I know I was always online trying to figure everything out when I spent 4-weeks in the city! On a side note, if you’re looking to get out of the city and have a couple of free days, I completely recommend Iguazú Falls!

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein

Thanks for reading!

Does any of the grammar seem wrong to you? Think I left something out about the Rioplatense dialect and slang? Please let me know!

I am still a student, and Spanish is an ever-changing and complex language — especially to a non-native speaker. Help me provide the best information possible!

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