If you go for a holiday on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, you would probably overlook the Costa Cálida, in the southeast of Spain. Alicante is nearby, so most Brits prefer to go there, so I can understand why it’s not so well-known. But this coastline is part of the Region de Murcia, and when you meet the people there, you are in for quite a difficult time. Are they unfriendly? Not at all. I didn’t feel like an alien in that regard, but my years of learning Spanish were heavily put to the test once a local opened their mouth and started talking (though some parts of Huelva and Sevilla are a close 2nd and 3rd).
My experience with the accent started when I checked into my hostel in Murcia capital. I was a little taken aback by the difference in the receptionist’s accent, but I powered through and got everything sorted. I was unsure as to whether that was a one-off, but I went into various bars for some tapas and the experience was of a similar degree. By the end of my stay, I certainly felt like I had had an intensive Spanish listening exam.
But what makes this accent so difficult?
- Murcians speak really quickly, or at least quicker than many other Spanish speakers around the country in my experience. Seriously, I would never get into an argument with someone from there as it would just get messy and I’d probably lose even if I’m 100% right.
- /s/ are extremely soft. Plural words will lose the /s/ dos turns to do. It is used at the start of the word at least, and a ‘c’ might sound like an /s/ but that’s generally a southern thing anyway. /x/ might sound like an /s/.
- Hard consonants are very relaxed which makes the words sound quicker, because there’s no semi pause for pronunciation for example: Iglesia may sound like Ilesia. They do this with so many letters where syllables are cut short.
- facial expressions when you pay attention to somebody don’t give that much away either, so any lipreading skills you have, may be futile.
Murcia’s accent is sometimes displayed in Spanish popular culture, with various films making fun of it and allowing the region to be the butt of all jokes. It reminds me of the Geordie accent in English culture (I’m a southerner, don’t hate). So many Spanish people that I know will make fun of Murcia because of the accent, but most of them make good humour of it.
The big questions are: can you get used to it? And does everybody speak like this? If you live in Murcia, you most certainly can get used to it, but it will take a lot longer, especially if you don’t have a high level to begin with. I was only there for 2 days and I survived ok, but was still rather shocked by the differences. And of course, not everybody speaks like this, but the vast majority do, as well as in surrounding provinces of Albacete, Almería and Alicante. Even people who work in public places may be difficult to understand. I went to the tourist office in Murcia and they were clearer than most people, but still quite a challenge to understand everything.
So there you have it, Murciano. Not a language in it’s own right, but some people might say differently when they experience hearing it. I think while it’s an obstacle that doesn’t make much sense, It shouldn’t put you off from checking this region out. If anything, this is one of the biggest learning curves you could experience if Spanish isn’t your first language. Expect a conversation that has a mumbling and lack of hard consonant element to it and see how far you can go. The further you go, the better the experience and the more likely you are of discovering some hidden gems. Good luck!