Canarian Spanish Is it so different to peninsular Spanish?

Confused about Canarian Spanish ?tenerife

For people learning Spanish, the variations in dialect across the different regions can be slightly baffling. From additional words, to entirely different tense formations, to phrases that make absolutely no sense in the Castilian version you learned at school; it can be a struggle to get the hang of.

Whereas Catalan presents a huge challenge to Spanish speakers in that it is an entirely different tongue, Canarian Spanish (the language of Spain’s Canary Islands) only requires a few mere tweaks to your current Castilian knowledge for you to be able to sound like an island native.

So what are the special ‘canarismos’?

First up, Canarians have their own set of vocabulary. Throw a few of these Canarian-specific words into your everyday Spanish conversation and you’ll have the locals well and truly convinced:

Escachar: to squash, cotufas: popcorn, guagua: bus, trabas: hairpins, rascado: drunkenness, tenis: sports shoes, chacho: to express surprise (it’s a shortened form of muchacho), chachi = good or nice, machango = joker, fisco or fisquito = a small amount or little bit.

Canarian speakers also use a few Anglicisms which don’t appear in the Spanish of Spain’s mainland, such as the word ‘knife’ (which is pronounced more like ‘naife’) on the island, and also “quinegua” for potato, which is a shortened version of the English word ‘King Edward’.

Secondly, people in the Canaries pronounce things differently. Where in Castilian Spanish you would generally pronounce words containing the letter ‘z’ or ‘c’ with a ‘th’ sound, in the Canaries this becomes ‘s’, like in the Latin American variety (incidentally, the similarities between Latin American Spanish and Canarian Spanish are so numerous because the settlers in those areas came over and colonised from the Canary Islands, bringing their language with them). So for example ‘cenar’, usually pronounced ‘thenar’, would become ‘senar’.

Thirdly, there are countless differences in the grammar. In Castilian Spanish, speakers employ the word ‘de’ to show possession, such as in ‘casa de Maria’. In Canarian Spanish this is generally omitted, so that the same phrase would read ‘casa Maria’.

Canary Islanders also prefer to use the preterit instead of the perfect tense when talking about past events. You’ll notice lots of ‘hoy he….’ to describe things done that day. Such as ‘hoy he bebido leche’ to mean ‘I drank milk today’.

They also occasionally employ verbs differently than you may have been used to, for in phrases such as: “¡Que hayan suerte!”

Finally, Canarian Spanish involves replacing ‘vosotros’ for ‘ustedes’ in almost all situations (except in La Gomera and La Palma, for some reason).


Study on the islands

Getting to know the history of why there are so many differences between Canarian and Castilian Spanish, and appreciating the influences in the different regions is one point that makes studying on the islands different to the mainland.

Though the islands can be very tourist-heavy, and thus everyone speaks a reasonable level of English, avoiding the big towns and cities in favour of more rural locations will mean people are much more likely to address you in Spanish (or at least continue a conversation in Spanish that you have initiated).

A few highly recommended schools are the Gran Canaria School of Languages in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which offers 20 lessons per week for 170 euros. Las Palmas is quite densely populated by expats, however, so if you want to immerse yourself then it might be better to head elsewhere. In Fuerteventura, the Fuerteventura Spanish School has had great reviews and offers small, personalised intensive classes for 195 euros per week. This is a great location for water sports, as Caleta de Fuste down the road has some fantastic diving schools, as well as great beaches for snorkelling (see more here). Or for those wanting to go even more out in the sticks, head to La Gomera. A school called Language Infusions offers great immersion courses, and the island itself is by far the most picturesque of the bunch.

Have you learned Canarian Spanish? Got anything to add? Let us know!


Our thanks goes to Hollie Mantle for writing this blog.