Spanish in Chile & Chilean Slang: Everything You Need to Know

Spanish in Chile & Chilean Slang: Everything You Need to Know

When I was preparing to study abroad in Chile, I naively thought to myself, “I’ve been studying Spanish for three years, I know this language, I can do this!” Then, on arrival, I realized I had no idea what was going on. I was so lost because the Spanish in Chile is so different from the Spanish I had been learning from my Argentinian and Spanish professors. And, to be fair, learning a language in a classroom is so much different than immersing yourself in it. Here are some Chilean Spanish and Chilean slang tips so that you don’t struggle with the language, as much as I did, on your next Chile trip.

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CHILE TRAVEL BASICS
Getting There: FLIGHTS & BUSES
Getting There: AIRPORT TRANSFERS
Accommodation: HOTELS & HOSTELS
Things to Do: TOURS & ACTIVITIES
Getting Around: RENTAL CARS
Safety & Health: TRAVEL INSURANCE


Language Learning Tips

Question Mark, language learning tips, spanish in chile
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. As someone who teaches English as a Foreign Language, I always encourage my students not to be afraid of making mistakes. Maybe that sounds strange, but making mistakes is one of the best ways we learn. Especially when it comes to language learning, if you are too worried about making mistakes, you will just stop practicing.
  • Surround yourself with the language as much as possible. As the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect. If you know people who speak your target language, practice conversing with them. Take language classes. Use apps like Duolingo. Listen to music, read short articles, and watch TV in the target language (even if you have to use subtitles for a bit).
  • Find a language exchange group. On Facebook or apps like Meet Up, you can sometimes find Language Exchange Groups. In these groups you can find someone who is learning your first language but who also speaks your target language as their first language. You can practice Spanish with them and they can practice English with you or vice versa.
  • Immerse yourself by traveling! If you’re reading this article, chances are you are already planning to do this. I like this tip the best because it’s the most fun and often most effective thing you can do to absorb a language.
  • Don’t give up! You’ll get there as long as you keep practicing.

Basic Spanish Phrases for Traveling

Hello. ‘Hola.’

Goodbye. Adios.’

See you later. ‘Nos vemos.’

Good morning. ‘Buenos dias.’ 

Good afternoon/evening. ‘Buenos tardes.’  

Good night. ‘Buenos noches.’

Nice to meet you. ‘Mucho gusto.’

What is your name? ‘Como te llamas?’ or ‘Cuál es tu nombre.’

My name is… ‘Mi nombre es…’

How are you? ‘¿Cómo estás?’

I’m fine, how are you? ‘Estoy bien, ¿cómo estás?’

Where are you from? ‘¿De dónde eres?’

I am from Canada. ‘Yo soy de Canada.’

Related article: Speaking Spanish in Mexico: Basic Phrases & Mexican Slang

Spanish in Chile: Chileans Speak Quite Quickly

The first thing I noticed when I landed in Santiago was how quickly Chileans spoke. Aside from how different the Spanish sounded, it was hard to keep up based solely on speed too. Even Peruvians and Argentinians that I met while studying in Chile said they struggled to understand and keep up with Chileans.

Indigenous Influences on Chilean Spanish

There are many Indigenous languages spoken in Chile. Two that have had powerful influences on Spanish in Chile are Quechua and Mapudungun. Quechua has apparently had a slightly stronger influence on Chilean Spanish than Mapudungun.

Influences of these languages both show up in the slang spoken in the country, such as in words like ‘guagua’ listed below.

Chilean Slang

chilean flag over santiago

Also referred to as ‘Chilenismos’, here is a list of Chilean slang terms to know before you head to the country.

Po

The word “po” comes from the word ‘pues’ which means ‘well’. It’s used as an emphasis when speaking and is often added to the end of sentences or questions. It’s kind of similar to how Canadians say “eh?”

Huevon & Huevona

“Huevon” and “huevona” are pronounced more like ‘weon’ and ‘weona’. These terms mean different things in different contexts. In a friendly context it’s kind of like calling someone ‘dude’ and friends will often use it with one another. In a heated argument, though, “huevon” and “huevona” can mean ‘idiot’ or ‘stupid person’.

Que Bacán

While in Mexico, “que padre” means ‘how cool’, in Chile they say “que bacán”. The word “bacán” can also be used on it’s own to simply mean ‘cool’ rather than ‘how cool’.

Carrete & Carretear

party carrete disco balls

Instead of using the word ‘fiesta’ for ‘party’, Chileans will often use the word “carrete”. It can also be used as a verb with “carretear” meaning ‘to party’ or ‘to have a party’. Speaking from experience, carretes in Chile can get pretty wild!

Curado & Curada

After drinking a ‘terremoto’ or two, you can use the words “curado” or “curada” to say that you are drunk or wasted.

Caña

After a carrete full of terremotos and pisco you may wake up the next day with a “caña” or hangover.

Cuico & Cuica

chilean slang and spanish in chile

“Cuico” and “cuica” are used to describe rich people in Chile. The word is used in a slightly similar way to the Mexican slang “fresa”.

Fome

“Fome” is used to describe something that is very boring.

Buena Onda & Mala Onda

“Buena onda” literally translates to ‘good wave’ but it actually is used to describe a person who is cool, nice or has ‘good vibes’. “Mala onda” on the other hand means someone who is mean or has ‘bad vibes’.

Cachar & Cachai?

The verb “cachar” is used instead of ‘comprender’ and means ‘to understand’. Instead of saying ‘¿Comprendes?’ to make sure someone understands what you’re saying, you can say ‘¿Cachai?’

Guagua

baby photo, spanish in chile

Pronounced like ‘wah-wah’, the word “guagua” means ‘baby’.

Once

“Once” refers to a snack which usually takes place between lunch and dinner. It usually consists of tea, coffee, bread or cookies.

Pololo, Polola & Pololoeando

In most Spanish-speaking countries, boyfriend and girlfiend are translated to ‘novio’ and ‘novia’. However, in Chile, boyfriend is “pololo” and girlfriend is “polola”, while “pololoeando” means ‘to date’.

Spanish in Chile FAQ

Is Chilean Spanish different from Mexican Spanish?

Yes. While Spanish is spoken in both Chile and Mexico, Mexican and Chilean Spanish have very different accents and slang.

Is English widely spoken in Chile?

No. While some people do speak English it is not spoken as often as it is in other Spanish-speaking countries.

Why is Chilean Spanish so hard?

There are many reasons why Chilean Spanish is difficult to learn. The slang and the accent are very different from most other Spanish-speaking countries. Chilean Spanish has evolved to include words from many other Indigenous languages in the region such as Mapudungun and Quechua. Add into the mix the quick speed at which many Chileans speak and it’s bound to become difficult to keep up.

Even many Argentinians and Peruvians that I met while living in Chile told me that it was hard for them to understand Chilean Spanish sometimes.

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