Today one of my students asked me about this topic, and I wrote and article a while ago, so I’ll just paste it here for anybody to read.
it may be useful to someone.
One of the many troubles the Spanish student can find while he learns the language, it’s the many different accents and slang that are used in the different Spanish speaking countries. A word of sentence that may denote something positive in Mexico, can mean the opposite on Colombia or Spain, based on the slang of the country. Most of the people study a single accent, and while its true that you can communicate and understand most of what everyone says, its really important to know at least the basics on the differences between pronunciation and slang to avoid having misunderstandings. As a huge movie fan, and someone who believes theres not more organic way to learn a language than surrounding yourself in it, I made a list of four movies from this century that may help you differentiate some accents, learning it on your own while having some fun:
El laberinto del fauno: This is a dark fantasy movie that happens in the era of the Spanish civil war. All actors are Spanish, and its intended for an adult audience, so they speak with curses and slang through the whole film, and, if you are used to latin American Spanish, you can notice things like the word thank you, Gracias, is spoken in a more nasal way, like if they said Grathias, or saying vosotros, instead of ustedes while talking about more than one person. There is not modern slang in it, but it’s still a great tool to understand the accent, as well as some words that are commonly used in Spain vocabulary, but aren’t used in latin America, or words that are used, but have very different meanings, like the verb “coger”, that is used often, for when someone grabs something, but in latin America, its not polite to say often, because its mostly used as slang for intercourse, while the word “agarrar” is used for “grabing” instead.
Relatos salvajes: This is a collection of 6 short fimls, so is easy to watch one or two, just to practice a few minutes, then come back to study the accent another day. Another movie for grownups with no censorship on curses and slang, but set in modern times argentina, each story with different characters and situations, which helps a lot to the student, because theres way more vocabulary as consequence. One of the main things you’ll notice, is instead of “tu” for the second person of singular, they always use vos, kind of like they say “thou” in old English folk tales, and they pronounce “ll”, as “sh”, instead of the “ y” sound you may be used to from other accents.
Los colores de la montaña: Colombian movie about a group of kids living in a rural place, but surrounded by the violence of the “guerrillas”, while they live as normal kids, playing soccer and going to school. Think stand by me, but instead of the kids finding a death body, their soccer ball gets into a mine field. Colombia has a lot of different accents like Costeño, Rolo or Pastuso, depending on what part of the country you are in, but it’s still overall a very neutral version of Spanish and its worth knowing its slang, with words and phrases like ¿que hubo parce? (what’s up dude?), el parche (the crew, the homies), estar jincho (being drunk) that are used and contextualized well in this movie.
El infierno: A Mexican movie about a deported ilegall inmigrant who goes back to his town, but now is ruled by the mafia. If you are from the US, you must be pretty familiar with the Mexican accent, because the countries are beside each other, and, as it is Colombian Spanish, is a pretty neutral version of the language, but still, is worth a watch because they use many words that are not usually heard on TV.
I hope people will find this list useful, as I picked only recent movies, that are probably way easier to find on dvd or an streaming service, than older movies from the last century. Anyway, as always, the best way to experience an accent is to talk with a native, but this can help to at least understand the basic differences, and get a little more familiar with certain slangs specific to a country, before talking with someone.
If you want to improve your Spanish, I also give tutoring lessons on skype using this page that host many teachers from all over the world, and while I don’t really do grammar, I can help with conversation and doubts about the language. Also, if you are interested in any language besides spanish, there are teachers and tutors for any language there.