11/10/2011 10:31 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Why the Spanish in Guatemala Didn't Prepare Me for the Spanish in Chile

I spent four weeks in Guatemala travelling around the country and speaking Spanish. For two of those four weeks, I spent 40 hours in an intensive Spanish class with one-on-one instruction. I haggled in markets, warded off unwanted advances by virile Guatemalan males, and completed complex administrative tasks during my stay.

My diploma, pictured above, says I have a high-intermediate level of Spanish.

So why the heck couldn't I understand anybody in Chile?

Chilean Spanish is hard (for me). Guatemalan Spanish is slow, deliberate. Guatemalans pronounce all their letters. I got over-confident with my Spanish level.

During my eight days in Chile I felt like I didn't understand anybody. I had to ask people to repeat themselves. The most common of phrases were unrecognizable to me because people there don't seem to pronounce the letter "s" in words. And Chilean Spanish is fast... REALLY fast. Gone was the relaxed, slow way of speaking I became accustomed to in Guatemala.

Don't get me wrong, I love Chilean Spanish. It is sexy. It is rapid and frenetic. The accent is exotic in that it's different than what I'm used to. There are a zillion and one slang words and different ways of saying things there.

What I'm trying to say is: I love the variety of Spanish in Chile, I love the code.

I just wish I was able to understand it.

That being said, this IS coming from the girl who has problems understanding Irish, Scottish, and Australian English -- and I'm a native speaker.

Have you had the experience of speaking a certain dialect/variety of a language, only to not understand people when you get to a region with a different dialect/variety?