As if the number of dialects and regional languages in Spain were not enough, there is also a number of hugely varying accents spoken amongst the Spanish peoples. Having learnt Spanish to a reasonable level of understanding, and remembering back to that first lesson in which you were taught that Spanish is a phonetic language, it can only be frustrating to arrive somewhere in Spain where a thick fog of language is spoken instead of that crisp and clear accent you were taught in, and to note that half of the letters in each word are just not being pronounced.
When we consider the variation of pronunciation seen across the UK, a much smaller land mass than Spain, it is of no surprise that equally, if not more, the Spanish accent is one that also varies vastly. But it is the latter point of my introduction which I imagine causes the most vexation amongst learners of Spanish as a second language upon landing in a Spanish speaking country. A nuisance though a strong accent might be, ought it not to be limited to the variation of intonation, some small variation in use and meaning of certain words, and perhaps also the occasional unusual (mis)pronunciation of a word?
In any formal language education, you are taught a set of rules regarding pronunciation which, although possibly based only on the accent of the teacher, is often taken to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For example, the distincíon between the phonemes of /θ/ and /s/ is a lesson which is learnt early on in Spanish teaching (whether actively taught or implicitly learnt). A brief enlightenment into the issues of seseo and ceceo might soon follow, but inevitably, there will be one accent, one set of rules, in which your Spanish learning will thenceforth proceed. O, what famine of fortune then has you find that, whilst hunting in Andalusia, you cannot decipher as to whether your partner is saying to you ‘Volvemos a la casa’ or ‘Volvemos a la caza’.
The variation of accents is undoubtedly an issue for those who speak Spanish as a second language, but it is not a fatal issue. The gift of context and the power of deduction allow you to quickly adapt to these various forms of speaking, although at first you may find yourself confounded at the lackadaisical dropping of letters d, s, r, and often entire syllables: a method employed just to exasperate non-native speakers.