How to feel natural and completely confident about using colourful colloquialisms in Spain and Latin America.
So, you want to speak Spanish like a local? The good news is that it is relatively easy to add some tasty words that liven up your Spanish. In fact, you can soon get into the swing of things and use words that make it seem as though you grew up on the streets of Madrid, Buenos Aires, or Lima.
Find out the most widely used local words
Are you a fan of movies and soaps from around the world? If you are then you will no doubt have noticed that while a Brit might say “alright, mate”, an American could say “yo, dude” and an Australian will maybe say “g’day cobber”. You can’t imagine Crocodile Dundee with a traditional British voice over and slang, can you? Exactly the same sort of variety is also present in countries where Spanish is spoken.
In fact, the range of slang in Spanish is possibly even more diverse and fascinating than it is in English. The example of greeting a friend is a good one, actually. In Spain, you might get called “tío”, which is uncle, regardless of your siblings’ power of procreation.
Across in Argentina, you can expect the ubiquitous “che” to be included in the greeting. Before you puff out your chest and start to feel like a revolutionary hero you need to know that you aren’t being compared with Che Guevara. His real name was actually Ernesto and he was known as Che simply because this word is so commonly used as a greeting in his homeland.
In Bolivia you might hear “cumpa” get used. This is a word that comes from the tradition of becoming a life-long friend or “compadre” which you might have heard if you watched the Netflix series Narcos. Meanwhile, in Mexico you will hear “güey” being used by hip dudes everywhere.
What about if something is cool, awesome and totally wicked, man? Don’t worry, the Spanish speakers have a plethora of words to let you describe how amazing something is. If you are in Argentina and someone asks you if something is good then you can tell them that it’s “bárbaro, che” with a smug look of satisfaction on your face.
The female version of this word is “bárbara”, so it might help you to remember it if you can imagine Barbara Streisand doing something totally awesome.
Equally, if you want to say that something is cool in Mexico then you can use “chingon” to good effect. In Spain this would be “guay”, although by saying “mega super guay” you might sound just a little bit too much like an enthusiastic teenage girl getting ready for her first ever Enrique Iglesias concert. In the same way you can say “guay de Paraguay”, although you need to be feeling pretty darned hip to pull that phrase off.
With a bit of research you can find out which countries use “chévere” and where you are most likely to hear words like “bacano”, and “bacán”. With this powerful knowledge the locals will embrace you into their cliques in no time!
Use more English than you expected to
There is no doubt that Spanish is a great language when used in a fun and informal way. Once you get started then watching TV with subtitles and listening to music are a couple of fine ways of learning interesting new slang words.
Yet, one of the most common problems for foreigners is that they stumble across weird and exotic sounding words that don’t sound like Spanish. It can come as something of a shock to discover that what sounds like “jadox” is actually “hot dogs”, when you were expecting to munch into some “perros calientes” instead.
Sporting and computing terms often remain untranslated. More surprising are words like “hobby,”, “ticket”, “piercing” and “email”. Since perfectly good words exist in Spanish for these things, we are left to assume that the English version is seen as being fashionable. Maybe they just love to learn words from a good English voice over actor.
Listen all around you and be natural
The best way to understand slang in any language is to listen. After all, this is the language people use naturally in the streets, in the bars and on buses. Slang words are what people use to add colour to their conversations and a bit of fun to everyday conversations.
Whether you are going to speak slang or write it down, it takes a bit of courage to get started. Every English speaker probably feels foolish the first time they call someone “che” or let the word “chingon” tumble out of their mouth. This is perfectly normal but being natural about it is the very best way of using slang effectively.
You certainly shouldn’t be afraid of using some slang to spice up your Spanish usage no matter what country you are in or dealing with. Our Spanish voice artists and translators have got the lingo down so muchas gracias to them for keeping it real.