Learning Spanish means learning an incredibly diverse language, spoken natively by almost six hundred million people in twenty-two countries across three continents.
All kinds of cultures and languages mix with Spanish, with fascinating results, and Ecuadorian Spanish is no exception.
Located between the Amazon and the Pacific Ocean, climbing all along the Andean mountains, this country, although small, is immensely varied. And you can see that in the Ecuadorian language.
Spanish is not the only Ecuadorian language though. And you can identify three very different dialects of Ecuadorian Spanish.
So, if you’re planning a short trip, a long trip, or even if you’re thinking of retiring in Ecuador —well, let’s say this article will come in handy! Hopefully, here you’ll find it a useful starting point and a stimulus for your curiosity. Let’s go!
Ecuadorian Language And Culture
In Ecuador, like in most Latin American countries, you’ll find a very diverse linguistic landscape.
Spanish is by far the most popular language, and most of the population is monolingual, something very different than, let’s say, Paraguay, where most of the population is bilingual.
That said, the influence of Quechua can still be found in Ecuadorian Spanish, even though only 4% of Ecuadorians speak it. Don’t forget that languages play a long game and that not long ago that number was much higher.
The influence of Quechua is much more noticeable in the form of Andean Spanish spoken in Ecuador, known as serrano (highlander).
This variation, spoken in the mountainous middle regions of the country —which includes the capital, Quito—, is one of the most popular in the country.
The other one is Equatorial Coastal Spanish, costeño (coastal), spoken in the regions closer to the Pacific, which includes the most populous city of Ecuador: Guayaquil.
And then, in third place, there's Amazonic Spanish, which is very distinct but far less popular than the other two, as it covers the least densely populated region of the country.
As you know, this is not a full course of Ecuadorian Spanish —it’s just an introduction. So we can’t really get into much detail about these three different variations.
So, what do you say if we make a deal? I’ll speak mainly about the two most popular ones, costeño and serrano, and then we’ll have a little chat about some of the different slang and phrases that you can find all around Ecuador. Sounds good?
Español costeño, also known as Equatorial Coastal Spanish, is spoken all along the Ecuadorian Pacific, including the Galapagos Islands and extending into the Peruvian and Colombian coasts.
The most remarkable phonetic trait of this dialect is the aspiration of the -s, mainly at the end of the words or before another consonant. This means that these letters sound a lot like the English –h, making gatos (cats) something like *gatoh, and costa (shore) a lot like *cohta.
Another notable trait of this region is that they don’t differentiate the -ll and the -y: they’re both pronounced like a -y. This is a very common trend among a lot of Spanish dialects called yeismo.
Español serrano, a.k.a Ecuadorian Andean Spanish, is spoken mainly in the highlands of the country, including the capital, Quito.
This is the variation of Ecuadorian Spanish most influenced by Quechua, which means it has some very curious grammar quirks.
But we’re talking about phonetics here, and the most noticeable trait here is probably the way they pronounce the -r at the beginning of words. In general, you can say that serrano has a very standard Spanish pronunciation, but this is special.
In Quito, for example, it’s not uncommon to hear people pronouncing the -r as a -sh at the beginning of the words, something that you can also find in other kinds of Andean Spanish.
A Little Bit Of Grammar: Ecuadorian Spanish And The Second Person
When talking about Spanish variations, second-person pronouns often come to mind.
You could sum it up by saying that dialects usually choose between two variables: the tú pronoun or the vos pronoun, in the singular second-person, and the vosotros pronoun or the ustedes pronoun, in the plural second-person.
You can see the contrast very well by comparing Peninsular Spanish —the one spoken in Spain— with Argentinian Spanish, since they are opposite cases in this sense.
Peninsular Spanish is the only one that uses the vosotros form; Argentinian Spanish is the most extreme form of voseo, in other words, the dialect where the vos pronoun is best accepted.
In a table, the difference looks like this:
|Peninsular Spanish||Argentinian Spanish|
You may be wondering, what does this have to do with Ecuadorian Spanish? We’re getting there, I promise. We could start by saying that costeño, Equatorial Coastal Spanish, uses tú and ustedes, which means its table would look like this:
|Costeño – Equatorial Coastal Spanish|
There’s nothing strange with this, right? This table looks the same as, let’s say, the one used in Peruvian Spanish. But serrano is different. I mean, it’s not always different, but it can be different.
What are we talking about here? Well, in the highlands, some people use the same kind of conjugation as on the coast; in fact, it’s the most accepted and standardized one.
But you also have a kind of informal version where they use vos. The thing is… they use it in their own special way.
Some serranos —but not all of them— use the vos as an informal, relaxed, more familiar pronoun. But they don’t change their verbal conjugation.
To sum up: in the Ecuadorian Andes, it’s not strange to find people saying things like vos amas or vos tienes insted of vos amás or vos tenés. Pretty interesting, right?
Here comes everyone’s favourite section: vocabulary. Ecuadorians have a lot of colourful words that they use on an everyday basis.
Here’s a handy list:
Imagine this: it’s hot and humid, you’ve had a very long day, and you want to get home and chill a little bit. What do you do? Well, you may want to open a biela, that is, a cold beer.
Even though Ecuador is placed just over the Equator line, the country has a fair amount of temperature variation.
That’s due to altitude; Quito, for example, is 2800 meters above sea level (over nine thousand feet)! That means that it can get cold, especially at night.
What do you do then? You say ¡Achachay!, a Quechuan word that means something like “it’s so cold!”.
A chapa is a policeman. Some people believe that the expression comes from their plaques, which can also be called chapas, but in reality, this is another Quechuan expression: in Quechua, chapak means “guard”.
Are you out of money? Then you’re chiro!
5. ¿La Plena?
This is an extremely Ecuadorian expression. ¿La plena? means “Are you serious?”, and it’s used mainly to be sure the other person is not kidding.
6. Ñaño Or Ñaña
Ecuadorians use this word all the time: it means “brother”, but, as it often happens, it can be used in a metaphorical sense to speak about a close friend too.
Ñaño/a also comes from Quechua, from the word ñaña, which means “sister of a woman” (Quechuan has a very complex kinship system that distinguishes many types of siblings).
In most Spanish dialects, aniñado means “child-like”. But that’s not always the case. In Quito, this word means “high-class”, “rich”, or even “arrogant”.
A caleta is a cove, that is, a small, sheltered bay where you can, for example, moor your boat. But in Ecuador, this can also mean “home”.
It’s easy to see that this word is more common in coastal places like Guayaquil: it’s the kind of slang a sailor would use.
¡Chuta! means “shoot!”. In Ecuador, this is, on one hand, a soccer term, used when players shoot at the gate. But it is also an expression that indicates surprise or disappointment.
A pila is a battery, but, in Ecuador, if you say ¡pilas! to someone, you’re saying something closer to “stay sharp!”.
Ecuadorian Spanish 101
Well, that’s all for this crash course in Ecuadorian Spanish. Did you like it? I hope so. The Ecuadorian language is quite fascinating, like most Spanish dialects. All that nuance and subtleties… What can I say? I find it very interesting.
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