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Central American Spanish (called castellano by the locals) is a myriad of accents and vocabulary. Dropped syllables, forgotten consonants, combined vowels, and local slang all conspire to throw the average traveler into a linguistic knot. Add to this a strong indigenous influence and marked differences between urban and rural speakers, the educated and uneducated, and males and females, and it's enough to make you throw your phrase book out the bus window. This topic is worthy of a book itself, but following are some limited examples of the differences in dialect in both countries.

  • In El Salvador, the form of address vos is used instead of tú.
  • In both countries, the plural of tu is ustedes as opposed to vosotros.
  • B is used like v wherever you go in Central America, but is particularly common in El Salvador and Nicaragua, where las vidas becomes laz bidas.
  • In El Salvador, j becomes a weak h or disappears altogether. For example, you should say Meíko instead of Méjico (Mexico).
  • Nicaraguans have the habit of dropping the s in connecting words -- such as lo do instead of los dos.
  • Members of the rural class like to drop the "g" from some words, as by pronouncing agua as awa, while sophisticated urban dwellers are prone to stressing the "g," as by saying gueso instead of hueso (bone). In El Salvador and Nicaragua, the g is particularly hard in words such as guerra.

It would be helpful to take some Spanish classes before you visit Nicaragua and El Salvador; even a basic vocabulary of 100 words or so can make all the difference when trying to break the ice. You will be especially thankful for a little advance studying if you're stopped by a traffic cop or chatted up by a good looking local. Taking further classes when you get to your destination is a great way of making contact with real people, and you may be surprised how much you can learn in a week with lots of practice.

However, don't get your tongue in a twist over dialects; though Central Americans are fond of laughing at the way their neighbors speak, the truth is they still understand each other and will make allowances for a foreigner with halting Spanish. Most important is not to lisp on the c and z like they do in parts of Spain (that will definitely provoke laughter), and keep rolling your rrrrrs.

Hotel Terms

Aire-acondicionado -- Air-conditioning

Almohada -- Pillow

Baño -- Bathroom

Baño privado -- Private bathroom

Calefacción -- Heating

Cama -- Bed

Cobija -- Blanket

Colchón -- Mattress

Cuarto or Habitación -- Room

Escritorio -- Desk

Habitación doble -- Double room

Habitación simple/sencilla -- Single room

Habitación triple -- Triple room

Llave -- Key

Mosquitero -- Mosquito net

Sábanas -- Sheets

Seguro de puerta -- Door lock

Telecable -- Cable TV

Ventilador -- Fan

Travel Terms

Aduana -- Customs

Aeropuerto -- Airport

Avenida -- Avenue

Avión -- Airplane

Aviso -- Warning

Bus -- Bus

Calle -- Street

Cheques viajeros -- Traveler's checks

Correo -- Mail, or post office

Cuadra -- City block

Dinero or plata -- Money

Embajada -- Embassy

Embarque -- Boarding

Entrada -- Entrance

Equipaje -- Luggage

Este -- East

Frontera -- Border

Lancha or bote -- Boat

Norte -- North

Occidente -- West

Oeste -- West

Oriente -- East

Pasaporte -- Passport

Puerta de salida or puerta de empbarque -- Boarding gate

Salida -- Exit

Tarjeta de embarque -- Boarding pass

Vuelo -- Flight

Emergency Terms

Ambulancia -- Ambulance

¡Auxilio! -- Help!

Bomberos -- Fire brigade

Clínica -- Clinic or hospital

Doctor or médico -- Doctor

Emergencia -- Emergency

Enfermera -- Nurse

Enfermo/enferma -- Sick

Farmacia -- Pharmacy

Fuego or incendio -- Fire

Hospital -- Hospital

Ladrón -- Thief

Peligroso -- Dangerous

Policía -- Police

¡Váyase! -- Go away

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.