You've been to Spain a few times, you've had a couple of Spanish classes and you feel you've more or less grasped the language - and then you go to Chile…
It's no surprise that when oceans separate Chileans from the origin of their mother tongue and dialects are mixed with indigenous languages; accents, words and phrases will be chopped and changed. The difference between Spain Spanish and Chilean Spanish, however, is something else. Even Spaniards may struggle to understand their South American brothers and sisters, so it's without a doubt even trickier for those with Spanish as their second language.
To make life easier when talking to locals during your trip to Chile, here are some guidelines and tips to help you out:
First up: verbs. When listening to a Chilean speaking, you will no doubt hear the sound 'ay' quite frequently. The reason for this is because Chileans often conjugate the second person singular (tú/you) with an 'i' instead of the usual 'as' at the end of their verbs. For example, instead of asking "¿Cómo estás?" (How are you?), they will say "¿Cómo estai?". Simple, right?
Next on the cards: slang words. There's a ridiculous amount of Chilean slang words in existence (they even have a slang word for a Chilean slang word!) and remembering them all can feel like a bit of a losing battle at times. As such here's a handy list of some of the most common slang words used:
- ¿Cachai? = get it? / do you understand?
- Po = from the word 'pues' (well) and is just used for emphasis when speaking
- Buena onda = cool / great
- Fome = boring
- Polola/pololo = girlfriend / boyfriend (and poloeando = dating)
- Luca = 1000 peso bill (e.g. instead of saying 5000 pesos, they will say 5 luca)
- Guagua = baby
- Pega = work / job
- Pucha = said when something doesn't go how you wished
- Al tiro = right away / immediately
- Flojo = lazy
- Borracho /a = drunk
- Cabros = boys / younger men
- Carretear = to party
- Gringo / gringa = now used for anyone white (originally a reference to an American)
- Cuico / a = an upper class / rich person
- Flaite = a lower class person
- Guata = stomach
- Harto = a lot
- Taco = traffic jam
Most Used Slang Word
Third lesson: slang words continued (stick with me!). The most used slang word in the entirity of Chile is 'weón'. This can be used to call someone dude, mate, fool, idiot, jerk, or even more offensive terms! The only way to really understand the meaning is to listen to the context in which it is said. In order to appreciate the extent of this word, you only need to read this sentence (which makes perfect sense by the way!): "Oye el weón weón, weón", which means "the guy is an idiot, mate". Only in Chile can you use the same word three times, in one sentence, and have it mean a different thing each time!
Lesson number four: phrases. Once you've wrapped your head around the slang words the next conundrum is the weird but wonderful array of Chilean phrases. Here are a few of my personal favourites:
- Estar más tonto que una puerta = to be an idiot (literally means to be more stupid than a door!)
- Pellizcar la uva = to take someone's partner (literally means to steal someone's grapes!)
- Tener malas pugas = to be in a bad mood (literally means to have fleas!)
- Estar pato = to be out of money (literally means to be a duck!)
- Mojar el potito = to make a bold statement (literally means to get your bottom wet!)
- Estar arriba de la pelota = to be drunk (literally means to be on top of the ball!)
Finally: graduation. But before you graduate from our one stop school of Chilean Spanish I should mention that the concept of political correctness doesn't really exist in Chile, so you may hear something that you find a bit offensive. A Chilean, however, is most likely not intending to insult anyone, so try and take things said with a pinch of salt.
So with these (not so) wise words, go and practice your Chilean Spanish! And if this has all gone straight over your head, Chileans are very friendly and welcoming, so would be happy with just a smile and a wave!