Slang is an excellent way to connect with locals and show that you thoroughly understand the Spanish language. The best way to start working slang into your vocabulary is to listen first. If you are living in a Spanish-speaking country, listen to the native speakers around you and how they use certain slang words. If you are planning to travel to a Spanish-speaking country, familiarize yourself with a few slang words from that region so that you know their meanings when you hear them on the street. In this article we will review some helpful tips to remember when using slang words, as well as slang from Spain and Latin America.
Regionality of Spanish Slang
Spanish slang is highly regional. In fact, there is so much variation that entire books have been written on the subject trying to categorize the various terms from different countries. This can be tricky for Spanish learners as a word that you learn in one country might have a completely different meaning, or not even exist, in another. So, what can you do? The best option is to learn universal terms accepted in all Spanish speaking countries and then little by little, add slang to your repertoire. Based on the countries that you visit most, you can add more slang from those regions. What’s most important is to understand what slang terms mean and how they are used in context so that you are able to comprehend native speakers. Then, little by little, you can incorporate a few terms into your daily speech once you feel 100% comfortable with their use.
As in all languages, slang terms should be only used in appropriate situations. When in academic or professional environments, as well as when talking with the elderly, slang is not appropriate. Even if you hear others using slang in these situations, use your best judgement. In general, as a non-native speaker it’s always best to speak properly, respectfully and professionally rather than the alternative. However, spending time with peers and friends in informal situations can be great for testing out your use of slang.
Slang from Spain
- ¡Qué guay!→ How cool!
In Spain, you will hear this everywhere you go and luckily, it’s an easy expression to start using yourself. The word “guay” is pronounced like the letter “y” in English.
- ¡Qué mono! → How cute!
The word mono actually means “monkey” but is used to talk about children, animals or anything that someone finds “adorable.” Mono should agree in both gender and number with the person or item you are describing - mono, monos, mona, monas.
- Ser pija → to be really spoiled/stuck up
In Spain, when a child or a person comes off as being particularly pampered or pretentious this is a comment you might hear when others describe them. It is not necessarily a positive characteristic so it’s normally used when gossiping.
- ¡Qué fuerte! → Oh my gosh!/Wow!
The word fuerte technically translates to “strong” in English which seems rather appropriate for the meaning of this phrase. You would use it to express a number of strong emotions such as, shock, disbelief and amazement.
- Tío/ Tía → dude/chick
Much like the popularity of the word “dude” in California, you will hear tío/tía used among Spain’s youth and young adults. You just have to remember that everyone’s not talking about their aunts and uncles!
Slang from Mexico
- ¡Qué padre! → How cool!
Every country has its regional expression for “cool” and if you’re in Mexico there will be no shortage of the use of qué padre.
- Ser fresa → to be spoiled/stuck up
The word fresa actually translates to “strawberry” however, in this context it is most commonly used to describe people who think they are better than everyone else. This expression is often used to describe Mexico’s wealthy, but also within groups of social circles and acquaintances.
- ¡Aguas! → Watch out!
Dating back to colonial times when people would toss dirty water out the front window and into the street, aguas, meaning “water” reminds everyone to “watch out!”
- Mande → Excuse me?/Can you repeat that?
Stemming from the verb mandar, this expression literally means “command me.” Many believe that it dates back to colonialism, showing a position of inferiority and submission. Whatever the historical context, mande is used frequently to ask someone to repeat something that you didn’t hear or understand.
- Güey → dude
Pronounced “wey” in English, this term is mostly thrown around between men in extremely casual situations. Rather than saying the friend’s name, they refer to them as güey instead. However, when Mexicans use güey with a person they don’t know, it is often times confrontational. Further, you would never want to address an elderly person, even someone you know well, with güey.
- ¡No manches! → No way!/Are you serious?
This expression figuratively means, “don't jerk my chain.” Keep in mind that you may hear vulgar expressions in Mexican Spanish that mean the same thing, but make sure to use this one as to not offend anyone.
Slang from Central America
- Púchica → Oh my gosh!/wow!
If you’re in Central America, púchica is a fun word to use to show amazement or surprise. Whether the view of the mayan ruins of Tikal mesmerizes you or the black sand beaches of El Tunco in El Salvador take your breath away, saying a cheerful ¡púchica! would be entirely appropriate.
- Chilero→ Cool!
This term actually comes from the word chile although it has nothing to do with spiciness. Anything that you find interesting or cool you can refer to as chilero when traveling through Central America.
- Vaya pues → It’s all good/That’s fine
When ending a conversation it is common to use vaya pues which is the equivalent of “sounds good” or “okay then.”
Slang from South America
- Chévere → cool
As explained at the beginning of this article, Spanish slang is incredibly regional. Remember that when in South America, the word for cool is chévere.
- Estar en el horno → to be in trouble
The literal translation, “to be in the oven,” is pretty close to it’s figurative one, “to be in the hot seat.” In South America, when someone gets caught doing something bad, this expression is used to signify that they are in big trouble.
- Boludo/a → dude/chick
Similar to Spain’s tío and tía or Mexico’s güey, when in Uruguay or Argentina you will hear boludo for a man and boluda for a woman. Just like the word güey in Mexico, this term is incredibly informal and should only be used among friends and people you know well. When used with strangers it could be interpreted as insulting or disrespectful.
Now that you’ve got a few slang words to use in your everyday Spanish, you’ll start sounding more and more like a native speaker no matter what country you’re in!